*όπου ''Ενός'' στα αρχαία ελληνικά σημαίνει ''άνθρωπος''. Έν=Ένα=One=Ο.Ν.Ε.=Ο.Η.Ε=UN=Γυνή=Οίνος=Venus/Αφροδίτη.

Η ''Πλειοψηφία του Ενός'' δεν αναφέρεται μόνο στο γεγονός ότι στην ζυγαριά της οικονομίας οι πολλοί βουλιάζουν και ο ένας διασώζεται αλλά, επιπροσθέτως, σημαίνει ότι αυτός ο ένας (1) άνθρωπος διασώζει κυρία και έλκει το πλοίο της κυβέρνησης, τον κύβο που ερρίφθη και βυθίζεται (όπως ακριβώς σε μιαν ζυγαριά όπου η μάζα των πολλών χάνεται λόγω του βάρους). Η βάση της ερευνητικής μεθόδου στηρίζεται στην διαδικασία λήψης αποφάσεων κατά πλειοψηφία και την έκδοση αποτελεσμάτων μετρήσεων, ερευνών, ψηφοφορίας, εκλογής στα Ευρωπαϊκά Συμβούλια και στις Συνόδους Κορυφής της Ε.Κ. που διασώζουν μιαν χώρα -άνευ δικαιώματος αρνησικυρίας (βέτο)- από την ανισορροπία του Δημοσίου και από το “φούντο” του ταμείου της, δηλ. το Δ.Ν.Τ., με βάση τον Μηχανισμό Συναλλαγματικών Ισοτιμιών του Ευρωπαϊκού Νομισματικού Συστήματος και το εσωτερικό δίκτυο INNERNET πληρωμής της εργασίας των Ελλήνων κατ' οίκον: είναι το μοναδικό οικονομικό και τραπεζικό σύστημα στον κόσμο που λειτουργεί ως ραδιο-τηλεοπτικό κανάλι θετικών ειδήσεων και νέων μέσω προγραμμάτων και ταινιών με σκοπό την επικοινωνία με το κοινό. Αφενός χρησιμεύει ως Τράπεζα (Data Bank) πληροφοριών, δεδομένων και αίματος με προσωπική περιουσία 300 τρις Φοινίκων και αφετέρου βασίζεται στους θεσμούς της Ελεύθερης Οικονομίας ("Free Market"), στην απόλυτη τραπεζική πίστη, στο επιτόκιο Labor και στο ελληνικό νόμισμα οίκου (I.Q., συμβολική ονομασία για τον Φοίνικα, ο οποίος είναι το νόμισμα των Ελλήνων που αγαπούν την πατρίδα τους, που γνωρίζουν επαρκώς αρχαία και νέα Ελληνικά, Λατινικά, Αγγλικά, Γαλλικά κ.τ.λ., αγαπούν την έντεχνη μουσική, ελληνική και ξένη, και την ίδια την Τέχνη ενώ, με βάση την κατά κεφαλήν καλλιέργεια του Α.Ε.Π. αποτελεί την πλέον ανθούσα οικονομία στην Ευρώπη). Πρόκειται για μιαν νομισματική μονάδα που χαμηλότερη από αυτήν στον κόσμο σε αξία πλούτου δεν υπάρχει διότι πρωτίστως η νοημοσύνη και το νόμισμα των πολιτών που την χρησιμοποιούν δεν υποτιμάται ΠΟΤΕ: ειδικότερα, στηρίζεται στο νόμισμα της Αναγέννησης -ο Φοίνιξ- με βάση την ρήτρα E.C.U., δηλαδή 1 Φοίνιξ=3 Δολλάρια ενώ το Ευρώ υπολογίζεται με βάση τις συναλλαγματικές ισοτιμίες των υπολοίπων νομισμάτων με βάση το E.C.U., το E.C.U. όμως υπολογίζεται ΜΕ ΤΗΝ ΕΞΑΙΡΕΣΗ ΤΗΣ ΕΛΛΑΔΑΣ!

ΜΠΕΙΤΕ ΣΤΑ ΠΟΡΤΑΛ ΚΑΙ ΤΑ ΤΑΜΠΛΕΤ ΤΟΥ ΔΗΜΟΣΙΟΓΡΑΦΟΥ:

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Σάββατο, 19 Φεβρουαρίου 2011

Ο ΕΠΑΝΑΣΤΑΤΗΜΕΝΟΣ ΑΝΘΡΩΠΟΣ – ΔΟΚΙΜΙΟ ΤΟΥ ΑΛΜΠΕΡ ΚΑΜΥ

Ο ΕΠΑΝΑΣΤΑΤΗΜΕΝΟΣ ΑΝΘΡΩΠΟΣ – ΔΟΚΙΜΙΟ ΤΟΥ ΑΛΜΠΕΡ ΚΑΜΥ
ΤΟ ΑΓΓΛΙΚΟ ΚΕΙΜΕΝΟ


For Jean Grenier

And openly I pledged my heart to the grave and suffering land, and often in the consecrated night, I
promised to love her faithfully until death, unafraid, with her heavy burden of fatality, and never to
despise a single one of her enigmas. Thus did I join myself to her with a mortal cord.

Holderlin: The Death of Empedocles

Introduction

There are crimes of passion and crimes of logic. The boundary between them is not clearly defined. But
the Penal Code makes the convenient distinction of premeditation. We are living in the era of
premeditation and the perfect crime. Our criminals are no longer helpless children who could plead love
as their excuse. On the contrary, they are adults and they have a perfect alibi: philosophy, which can be
used for any purpose—even for transforming murderers into judges.
Heathcliff, in Wuthering Heights, would kill everybody on earth in order to possess Cathy, but it would
never occur to him to say that murder is reasonable or theoretically defensible. He would commit it, and
there his convictions end. This implies the power of love, and also strength of character. Since intense
love is rare, murder remains an exception and preserves its aspect of infraction. But as soon as a man,
through lack of character, takes refuge in doctrine, as soon as crime reasons about itself, it multiplies like
reason itself and assumes all the aspects of the syllogism. Once crime was as solitary as a cry of protest;
now it is as universal as science. Yesterday it was put on trial; today it determines the law.
This is not the place for indignation. The purpose of this essay is once again to face the reality of the
present, which is logical crime, and to examine meticulously the arguments by which it is justified; it is
an attempt to understand the times in which we live. One might think that a period which, in a space of
fifty years, uproots, enslaves, or kills seventy million human beings should be condemned out of hand.
But its culpability must still be understood. In more ingenuous times, when the tyrant
razed cities for his own greater glory, when the slave chained to the conqueror's chariot was dragged
through the rejoicing streets, when enemies were thrown to the wild beasts in front of the assembled
people, the mind did not reel before such unabashed crimes, and judgment remained unclouded. But slave
camps under the flag of freedom, massacres justified by philanthropy or by a taste for the superhuman, in
one sense cripple judgment. On the day when crime dons the apparel of innocence—through a curious
transposition peculiar to our times—it is innocence that is called upon to justify itself. The ambition of
this essay is to accept and examine this strange challenge.
Our purpose is to find out whether innocence, the moment it becomes involved in action, can avoid
committing murder. We can act only in terms of our own time, among the people who surround us. We
shall know nothing until we know whether we have the right to kill our fellow men, or the right to let
them be killed. In that every action today leads to murder, direct or indirect, we cannot act until we know
whether or why we have the right to kill.
The important thing, therefore, is not, as yet, to go to the root of things, but, the world being what it is, to
know how to live in it. In the age of negation, it was of some avail to examine one's position concerning
suicide. In the age of ideologies, we must examine our position in relation to murder. If murder has
rational foundations, then our period and we ourselves are rationally consequent. If it has no rational
foundations, then we are insane and there is no alternative but to find some justification or to avert our
faces. It is incumbent upon us, at all events, to give a definite answer to the question implicit in the blood
and strife of this century. For we are being put to the rack. Thirty years ago, before reaching a decision to
kill, people denied many things, to the point of denying themselves by suicide. God is deceitful; the
whole world (myself included) is deceitful; therefore I choose to die: suicide was the problem then.
Ideology today is concerned only with the denial of other human beings, who alone bear the responsibility
of deceit. It is then that we kill.
Each day at dawn, assassins in judges' obes slip into some cell: murder is the problem today.
The two arguments are inextricably bound together. Or rather they bind us, and so firmly that we can no
longer choose our own problems. They choose us, one after another, and we have no alternative but to
accept their choice. This essay proposes, in the face of murder and rebellion, to pursue a train of thought
which began with suicide and the idea of the absurd.
But, for the moment, this train of thought yields only one concept: that of the absurd. And the concept of
the absurd leads only to a contradiction as far as the problem of murder is concerned. Awareness of the
absurd, when we first claim to deduce a rule of behavior from it, makes murder seem a matter of
indifference, to say the least, and hence possible. If we believe in nothing, if nothing has any meaning and
if we can affirm no values whatsoever, then everything is possible and nothing has any importance. There
is no pro or con: the murderer is neither right nor wrong. We are free to stoke the crematory fires or to
devote ourselves to the care of lepers. Evil and virtue are mere chance or caprice.
We shall then decide not to act at all, which amounts to at least accepting the murder of others, with
perhaps certain mild reservations about the imperfection of the human race. Again we may decide to
substitute tragic dilettantism for action, and in this case human lives become counters in a game. Finally,
we may propose to embark on some course of action which is not entirely gratuitous. In the latter case, in
that we have no higher values to guide our behavior, our aim will be immediate efficacy. Since nothing is
either true or false, good or bad, our guiding principle will be to demonstrate that we are the most
efficient—in other words, the strongest. Then the world will no longer be divided into the just and the
unjust, but into masters and slaves. Thus, whichever way we turn, in our abyss of negation and nihilism,
murder has its privileged position.
Hence, if we claim to adopt the absurdist attitude, we must prepare ourselves to commit murder, thus
admitting
that logic is more important than scruples that we consider illusory. Of course, we must have some
predisposition to murder. But, on the whole, less than might be supposed, to judge from experience.
Moreover, it is always possible, as we can so often observe, to delegate murder. Everything would then be
made to conform to logic—if logic could really be satisfied in this way.
But logic cannot be satisfied by an attitude which first demonstrates that murder is possible and then that
it is impossible. For after having proved that the act of murder is at least a matter of indifference,
absurdist analysis, in its most important deduction, finally condemns murder. The final conclusion of
absurdist reasoning is, in fact, the repudiation of suicide and the acceptance of the desperate encounter
between human inquiry and the silence of the universe. Suicide would mean the end of this encounter,
and absurdist reasoning considers that it could not consent to this without negating its own premises.
According to absurdist reasoning, such a solution would be the equivalent of flight or deliverance. But it
is obvious that absurdism hereby admits that human life is the only necessary good since it is precisely
life that makes this encounter possible and since, without life, the absurdist wager would have no basis.
To say that life is absurd, the conscience must be alive. How is it possible, without making remarkable
concessions to one's desire for comfort, to preserve exclusively for oneself the benefits of such a process
of reasoning? From the moment that life is recognized as good, it becomes good for all men. Murder
cannot be made coherent when suicide is not considered coherent. A mind imbued with the idea of the
absurd will undoubtedly accept fatalistic murder; but it would never accept calculated murder. In terms of
the encounter between human inquiry and the silence of the universe, murder and suicide are one and the
same thing, and must be accepted or rejected together.
Equally, absolute nihilism, which accepts suicide as legitimate, leads, even more easily, to logical murder.
If our age admits, with equanimity, that murder has its justifications, it is because of this indifference to
life which is the mark of nihilism. Of course there have been periods of history in which the passion for
life was so strong that it
burst forth in criminal excesses. But these excesses were like the searing flame of a terrible delight. They
were not this monotonous order of things established by an impoverished logic in whose eyes everything
is equal. This logic has carried the values of suicide, on which our age has been nurtured, to their extreme
logical consequence, which is legalized murder. It culminates, at the same time, in mass suicide. The most
striking demonstration of this was provided by the Hitlerian apocalypse of 1945. Self-destruction meant
nothing to those madmen, in their bomb-shelters, who were preparing for their own death and apotheosis.
All that mattered was not to destroy oneself alone and to drag a whole world with one. In a way, the man
who kills himself in solitude still preserves certain values since he, apparently, claims no rights over the
lives of others. The proof of this is that he never makes use, in order to dominate others, of the enormous
power and freedom of action which his decision to die gives him. Every solitary suicide, when it is not an
act of resentment, is, in some way, either generous or contemptuous. But one feels contemptuous in the
name of something. If the world is a matter of indifference to the man who commits suicide, it is because
he has an idea of something that is not or could not be indifferent to him. He believes that he is destroying
everything or taking everything with him; but from this act of self-destruction itself a value arises which,
perhaps, might have made it worth while to live. Absolute negation is therefore not consummated by
suicide. It can only be consummated by absolute destruction, of oneself and of others. Or, at least, it can
only be lived by striving toward that delectable end. Here suicide and murder are two aspects of a single
system, the system of a misguided intelligence that prefers, to the suffering imposed by a limited
situation, the dark victory in which heaven and earth are annihilated.
By the same token, if we deny that there are reasons for suicide, we cannot claim that there are grounds
for murder. There are no half-measures about nihilism. Absurdist reasoning cannot defend the continued
existence of its spokesman and, simultaneously, accept the sacrifice of others' lives. The moment that we
recognize the impossibility of absolute negation—and merely to be alive
is to recognize this—the very first thing that cannot be denied is the right of others to live. Thus the same
idea which allowed us to believe that murder was a matter of indifference now proceeds to deprive it of
any justification; and we return to the untenable position from which we were trying to escape. In actual
fact, this form of reasoning assures us at the same time that we can kill and that we cannot kill. It
abandons us in this contradiction with no grounds either for preventing or for justifying murder, menacing
and menaced, swept along with a whole generation intoxicated by nihilism, and yet lost in loneliness,
with weapons in our hands and a lump in our throats.
This basic contradiction, however, cannot fail to be accompanied by a host of others from the moment
that we claim to remain firmly in the absurdist position and ignore the real nature of the absurd, which is
that it is an experience to be lived through, a point of departure, the equivalent, in existence, of
Descartes's methodical doubt. The absurd is, in itself, contradiction.
It is contradictory in its content because, in wanting to uphold life, it excludes all value judgments, when
to live is, in itself, a value judgment. To breathe is to judge. Perhaps it is untrue to say that life is a
perpetual choice. But it is true that it is impossible to imagine a life deprived of all choice. From this
simplified point of view, the absurdist position, translated into action, is inconceivable. It is equally
inconceivable when translated into expression. Simply by being expressed, it gives a minimum of
coherence to incoherence, and introduces consequence where, according to its own tenets, there is none.
Speaking itself is restorative. The only coherent attitude based on non-signification would be silence—if
silence, in its turn, were not significant. The absurd, in its purest form, attempts to remain dumb. If it
finds its voice, it is because it has become complacent or, as we shall see, because it considers itself
provisional. This complacency is an excellent indication of the profound ambiguity of the absurdist
position. In a certain way, the absurd, which claims to express man in his solitude, really makes him live
in front of a mirror. And then the initial anguish runs the risk of turning to
comfort. The wound that is scratched with such solicitude ends by giving pleasure.
Great explorers in the realm of absurdity have not been lacking. But, in the last analysis, their greatness is
measured by the extent to which they have rejected the complacencies of absurdism in order to accept its
exigencies. They destroy as much, not as little, as they can. "My enemies," says Nietzsche, "are those who
want to destroy without creating their own selves." He himself destroys, but in order to try to create. He
extols integrity and castigates the "hog-faced" pleasure-seekers. To escape complacency, absurdist
reasoning then discovers renunciation. It refuses to be sidetracked and emerges into a position of arbitrary
barrenness—a determination to be silent—which is expressed in the strange asceticism of rebellion.
Rimbaud, who extols "crime puling prettily in the mud of the streets," runs away to Harrar only to
complain about having to live there without his family. Life for him was "a farce for the whole world to
perform." But on the day of his death, he cries out to his sister: "I shall lie beneath the ground but you,
you will walk in sun!"
The absurd, considered as a rule of life, is therefore contradictory. What is astonishing about the fact that
it does not provide us with values which will enable us to decide whether murder is legitimate or not?
Moreover, it is obviously impossible to formulate an attitude on the basis of a specially selected emotion.
The perception of the absurd is one perception among many. That it has colored so many thoughts and
actions between the two wars only proves its power and its validity. But the intensity of a perception does
not necessarily mean that it is universal. The error of a whole period of history has been to enunciate—or
to suppose already enunciated—general rules of action founded on emotions of despair whose inevitable
course, in that they are emotions, is continually to exceed themselves. Great suffering and great happiness
may be found at the beginning of any process of reasoning. They are intermediaries. But it is impossible
to rediscover or sustain them throughout the entire process. Therefore, if it was legitimate to take
absurdist sensibility
into account, to make a diagnosis of a malady to be found in ourselves and in others, it is nevertheless
impossible to see in this sensibility, and in the nihilism it presupposes, anything but a point of departure, a
criticism brought to life—the equivalent, in the plane of existence, of systematic doubt. After this, the
minor, with its fixed stare, must be broken and we are, perforce, caught up in the irresistible movement by
which the absurd exceeds itself.
Once the mirror is broken, nothing remains which can help us to answer the questions of our time.
Absurd-ism, like methodical doubt, has wiped the slate clean. It leaves us in a blind alley. But, like
methodical doubt, it can, by returning upon itself, open up a new field of investigation, and the process of
reasoning then pursues the same course. I proclaim that I believe in nothing and that everything is absurd,
but I cannot doubt the validity of my proclamation and I must at least believe in my protest. The first and
only evidence that is supplied me, within the terms of the absurdist experience, is rebellion. Deprived of
all knowledge, incited to murder or to consent to murder, all I have at my disposal is this single piece of
evidence, which is only reaffirmed by the anguish I suffer. Rebellion is born of the spectacle of
irrationality, confronted with an unjust and incomprehensible condition. But its blind impulse is to
demand order in the midst of chaos, and unity in the very heart of the ephemeral. It protests, it demands, it
insists that the outrage be brought to an end, and that what has up to now been built upon shifting sands
should henceforth be founded on rock. Its preoccupation is to transform. But to transform is to act, and to
act will be, tomorrow, to kill, and it still does not know whether murder is legitimate. Rebellion engenders
exactly the actions it is asked to legitimate. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that rebellion find its
reasons within itself, since it cannot find them elsewhere. It must consent to examine itself in order to
learn how to act.
Two centuries of rebellion, either metaphysical or historical, present themselves for our consideration.
Only a historian could undertake to set forth in detail the doctrines and movements that have followed one
another during this period. But at least it should be possible to find a guiding principle. The pages that
follow only attempt to
present certain historical data and a working hypothesis. This hypothesis is not the only one possible;
moreover, it is far from explaining everything. But it partly explains the direction in which our times are
heading and almost entirely explains the excesses of the age. The astonishing history evoked here is the
history of European pride.
In any event, the reasons for rebellion cannot be explained except in terms of an inquiry into its attitudes,
pretensions, and conquests. Perhaps we may discover in its achievements the rule of action that the absurd
has not been able to give us; an indication, at least, about the right or the duty to kill and, finally, hope for
a new creation. Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is. The problem is to know whether
this refusal can only lead to the destruction of himself and of others, whether all rebellion must end in the
justification of universal murder, or whether, on the contrary, without laying claim to an innocence that is
impossible, it can discover the principle of reasonable culpability.

Part OneThe Rebel

What is a rebel? A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation. He is also a man
who says yes, from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion. A slave who has taken orders all
his life suddenly decides that he cannot obey some new command. What does he mean by saying "no"?
He means, for example, that "this has been going on too long," "up to this point yes, beyond it no," "you
are going too far," or, again, "there is a limit beyond which you shall not go." In other words, his no
affirms the existence of a borderline. The same concept is to be found in the rebel's feeling that the other
person "is exaggerating," that he is exerting his authority beyond a limit where he begins to infringe on
the rights of others. Thus the movement of rebellion is founded simultaneously on the categorical
rejection of an intrusion that is considered intolerable and on the confused conviction of an absolute right
which, in the rebel's mind, is more precisely the impression that he "has the right to . . ." Rebellion cannot
exist without the feeling that, somewhere and somehow, one is right. It is in this way that the rebel slave
says yes and no simultaneously. He affirms that there are limits and also that he suspects—and wishes to
preserve—the existence of certain things on this side of the borderline. He demonstrates, with obstinacy,
that there is something in him which "is worth while . . ." and which must be taken into consideration. In
a certain way, he confronts an order of things which oppresses him with the insistence on a kind of right
not to be oppressed beyond the limit that he can tolerate.
In every act of rebellion, the rebel simultaneously experiences
a feeling of revulsion at the infringment of his rights and a complete and spontaneous loyalty to
certain aspects of himself. Thus he implicitly brings into play a standard of values so far from being
gratuitous that he is prepared to support it no matter what the risks. Up to this point he has at least
remained silent and has abandoned himself to the form of despair in which a condition is accepted even
though it is considered unjust. To remain silent is to give the impression that one has no opinions, that one
wants nothing, and in certain cases it really amounts to wanting nothing. Despair, like the absurd, has
opinions and desires about everything in general and nothing in particular. Silence expresses this attitude
very well. But from the moment that the rebel finds his voice—even though he says nothing but "no"—he
begins to desire and to judge. The rebel, in the etymological sense, does a complete turnabout. He acted
under the lash of his master's whip. Suddenly he turns and faces him. He opposes what is preferable to
what is not. Not every value entails rebellion, but every act of rebellion tacitly invokes a value. Or is it
really a question of values?
Awareness, no matter how confused it may be, develops from every act of rebellion: the sudden, dazzling
perception that there is something in man with which he can identify himself, even if only for a moment.
Up to now this identification was never really experienced. Before he rebelled, the slave accepted all the
demands made upon him. Very often he even took orders, without reacting against them, which were far
more conducive to insurrection than the one at which he balks. He accepted them patiently, though he
may have protested inwardly, but in that he remained silent he was more concerned with his own
immediate interests than as yet aware of his own rights. But with loss of patience—with impatience—a
reaction begins which can extend to everything that he previously accepted, and which is almost always
retroactive. The very moment the slave refuses to obey the humiliating orders of his master, he
simultaneously rejects the condition of slavery. The act of rebellion carries him far beyond the point he
had reached by simply refusing. He exceeds the bounds that he fixed for his antagonist, and now demands
to be treated as an equal. What was at first
the man's obstinate resistance now becomes the whole man, who is identified with and summed up in this
resistance. The part of himself that he wanted to be respected he proceeds to place above everything else
and proclaims it preferable to everything, even to life itself. It becomes for him the supreme good. Having
up to now been willing to compromise, the slave suddenly adopts ("because this is how it must be . . .")
an attitude of All or Nothing. With rebellion, awareness is born.
But we can see that the knowledge gained is, at the same time, of an "all" that is still rather obscure and of
a "nothing" that proclaims the possibility of sacrificing the rebel to this "All." The rebel himself wants to
be "all"— to identify himself completely with this good of which he has suddenly become aware and by
which he wants to be personally recognized and acknowledged—or "nothing"; in other words, to be
completely destroyed by the force that dominates him. As a last resort, he is willing to accept the final
defeat, which is death, rather than be deprived of the personal sacrament that he would call, for example,
freedom. Better to die on one's feet than to live on one's knees.
Values, according to good authorities, "most often represent a transition from facts to rights, from what is
desired to what is desirable (usually through the intermediary of what is generally considered desirable)."1
The transition from facts to rights is manifest, as we have seen, in rebellion. So is the transition from "this
must be" to "this is how I should like things to be," and even more so, perhaps, the idea of the sublimation
of the individual in a henceforth universal good. The sudden appearance of the concept of "All or
Nothing" demonstrates that rebellion, contrary to current opinion, and though it springs from everything
that is most strictly individualistic in man, questions the very idea of the individual. If the individual, in
fact, accepts death and happens to die as a consequence of his act of rebellion, he demonstrates by doing
so that he is willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of a common good which he considers more
important than his own destiny. If he prefers the risk of death to the negation of the rights that he defends,
it is because he considers these
1Lalande: Vocabulaire philosophique.
rights more important than himself. Therefore he is acting in the name of certain values which are still
indeterminate but which he feels are common to himself and to all men. We see that the affirmation
implicit in every act of rebellion is extended to something that transcends the individual in so far as it
withdraws him from his supposed solitude and provides him with a reason to act. But it is already worth
noting that this concept of values as pre-existant to any kind of action contradicts the purely historical
philosophies, in which values are acquired (if they are ever acquired) after the action has been completed.
Analysis of rebellion leads at least to the suspicion that, contrary to the postulates of contemporary
thought, a human nature does exist, as the Greeks believed. Why rebel if there is nothing permanent in
oneself worth preserving? It is for the sake of everyone in the world that the slave asserts himself when he
comes to the conclusion that a command has infringed on something in him which does not belong to him
alone, but which is common ground where all men—even the man who insults and oppresses him—have
a natural community.2
Two observations will support this argument. First, we can see that an act of rebellion is not, essentially,
an egoistic act. Of course, it can have egoistic motives. But one can rebel equally well against lies as
against oppression. Moreover, the rebel—once he has accepted the motives and at the moment of his
greatest impetus—preserves nothing in that he risks everything. He demands respect for himself, of
course, but only in so far as he identifies himself with a natural community.
Then we note that rebellion does not arise only, and necessarily, among the oppressed, but that it can also
be caused by the mere spectacle of oppression of which someone else is the victim. In such cases there is
a feeling of identification with another individual. And it must be pointed out that this is not a question of
psychological identification—a mere subterfuge by which the individual imagines that it is he himself
who has been offended. On the contrary, it can often happen that we cannot bear to
2 The community of victims is the same as that which unites victim and executioner. But the executioner
does not know this.
see offenses done to others which we ourselves have accepted without rebelling. The suicides of the
Russian terrorists in Siberia as a protest against their comrades' being whipped is a case in point. Nor is it
a question of the feeling of a community of interests. Injustices done to men whom we consider enemies
can, actually, be profoundly repugnant to us. There is only identification of one's destiny with that of
others and a choice of sides. Therefore the individual is not, in himself alone, the embodiment of the
values he wishes to defend. It needs all humanity, at least, to comprise them. When he rebels, a man
identifies himself with other men and so surpasses himself, and from this point of view human solidarity
is metaphysical. But for the moment we are only talking of the kind of solidarity that is born in chains.
It would be possible for us to define the positive aspect of the values implicit in every act of rebellion by
comparing them with a completely negative concept like that of resentment as defined by Scheler.
Rebellion is, in fact, much more than pursuit of a claim, in the strongest sense of the word. Resentment is
very well defined by Scheler as an autointoxication—the evil secretion, in a sealed vessel, of prolonged
impotence. Rebellion, on the contrary, breaks the seal and allows the whole being to come into play. It
liberates stagnant waters and turns them into a raging torrent. Scheler himself emphasizes the passive
aspect of resentment and remarks on the prominent place it occupies in the psychology of women who are
dedicated to desire and possession. The fountain-head of rebellion, on the contrary, is the principle of
superabundant activity and energy. Scheler is also right in saying that resentment is always highly colored
by envy. But one envies what one does not have, while the rebel's aim is to defend what he is. He does not
merely claim some good that he does not possess or of which he was deprived. His aim is to claim
recognition for something which he has and which has already been recognized by him, in almost every
case, as more important than anything of which he could be envious. Rebellion is not realistic. According
to Scheler, resentment always turns into either unscrupulous ambition or bitterness, depending
on whether it is implanted in a strong person or a weak one. But in both cases it is a question of
wanting to be something other than what one is. Resentment is always resentment against oneself. The
rebel, on the contrary, from his very first step, refuses to allow anyone to touch what he is. He is fighting
for the integrity of one part of his being. He does not try, primarily, to conquer, but simply to impose.
Finally, it would seem that resentment takes delight, in advance, in the pain that it would like the object of
its envy to feel. Nietzsche and Scheler are right in seeing an excellent example of this in the passage
where Ter-tullian informs his readers that one of the greatest sources of happiness among the blessed will
be the spectacle of the Roman emperors consumed in the fires of hell. This kind of happiness is also
experienced by the decent people who go to watch executions. The rebel, on the contrary, limits himself,
as a matter of principle, to refusing to be humiliated without asking that others should be. He will even
accept pain provided his integrity is respected.
It is therefore hard to understand why Scheler completely identifies the spirit of rebellion with resentment.
His criticism of the resentment to be found in humani-tarianism (which he treats as the non-Christian
form of love for mankind) could perhaps be applied to certain indeterminate forms of humanitarian
idealism, or to the techniques of terror. But it rings false in relation to man's rebellion against his
condition—the movement that enlists the individual in the defense of a dignity common to all men.
Scheler wants to demonstrate that humanitarian feelings are always accompanied by a hatred of the world.
Humanity is loved in general in order to avoid having to love anybody in particular. This is correct, in
some cases, and it is easier to understand Scheler when we realize that for him humanitarianism is
represented by Bentham and Rousseau. But man's love for man can be born of other things than a
mathematical calculation of the resultant rewards or a theoretical confidence in human nature. In face of
the utilitarians, and of Emile's preceptor, there is, for example, the kind of logic, embodied by
Dostoievsky in Ivan Karamazov, which progresses from an act of rebellion to metaphysical insurrection.
Scheler is aware of this and
sums up the concept in the following manner: "There is not enough love in the world to squander it on
anything but human beings." Even if this proposition were true, the appalling despair that it implies would
merit anything but contempt. In fact, it misunderstands the tortured character of Karamazov's rebellion.
Ivan's drama, on the contrary, arises from the fact that there is too much love without an object. This love
finding no outlet and God being denied, it is then decided to lavish it on human beings as a generous act
of complicity.
Nevertheless, in the act of rebellion as we have envisaged it up to now, an abstract ideal is not chosen
through lack of feeling and in pursuit of a sterile demand. We insist that the part of man which cannot be
reduced to mere ideas should be taken into consideration—the passionate side of his nature that serves no
other purpose than to be part of the act of living. Does this imply that no rebellion is motivated by
resentment? No, and we know it only too well in this age of malice. But we must consider the idea of
rebellion in its widest sense on pain of betraying it; and in its widest sense rebellion goes far beyond
resentment. When Heathcliff, in Wuthering Heights, says that he puts his love above God and would
willingly go to hell in order to be reunited with the woman he loves, he is prompted not only by youth and
humiliation but by the consuming experience of a whole lifetime. The same emotion causes Eckart, in a
surprising fit of heresy, to say that he prefers hell with Jesus to heaven without Him. This is the very
essence of love. Contrary to Scheler, it would therefore be impossible to overemphasize the passionate
affirmation that underlies the act of rebellion and distinguishes it from resentment. Rebellion, though
apparently negative, since it creates nothing, is profoundly positive in that it reveals the part of man which
must always be defended.
But, to sum up, are not rebellion and the values that it implies relative? Reasons for rebellion do seem to
change, in fact, with periods and civilizations. It is obvious that a Hindu pariah, an Inca warrior, a
primitive native of central Africa, and a member of one of the first Christian communities had not at all
the same ideas about rebellion.
We could even assert, with considerable assurance, that the idea of rebellion has no meaning in these
particular cases. However, a Greek slave, a serf, a condottiere of the Renaissance, a Parisian bourgeois
during the Regency, a Russian intellectual at the beginning of the twentieth century, and a contemporary
worker would undoubtedly agree that rebellion is legitimate, even if they differed about the reasons for it.
In other words, the problem of rebellion seems to assume a precise meaning only within the confines of
Western thought. It is possible to be even more explicit by remarking, like Scheler, that the spirit of
rebellion finds few means of expression in societies where inequalities are very great (the Hindu caste
system) or, again, in those where there is absolute equality (certain primitive societies). The spirit of
rebellion can exist only in a society where a theoretical equality conceals great factual inequalities. The
problem of rebellion, therefore, has no meaning except within our own Western society. One might be
tempted to affirm that it is relative to the development of individualism if the preceding remarks had not
put us on our guard against this conclusion. On the basis of the evidence, the only conclusion that can be
drawn from Scheler's remark is that, thanks to the theory of political freedom, there is, in the very heart of
our society, an increasing awareness in man of the idea of man and, thanks to the application of this
theory of freedom, a corresponding dissatisfaction. Actual freedom has not increased in proportion to
man's awareness of it. We can only deduce from this observation that rebellion is the act of an educated
man who is aware of his own rights. But there is nothing which justifies us in saying that it is only a
question of individual rights. Because of the sense of solidarity we have already pointed out, it would
rather seem that what is at stake is humanity's gradually increasing self-awareness as it pursues its course.
In fact, for the Inca and the pariah the problem never arises, because for them it had been solved by a
tradition, even before they had had time to raise it—the answer being that tradition is sacred. If in a world
where things are held sacred the problem of rebellion does not arise, it is because no real problems are to
be found in such a world, all the answers having been given simultaneously.
Metaphysic is replaced by myth. There are no more questions, only eternal answers and commentaries, which
may be metaphysical. But before man accepts the sacred world and in order that he should be able to accept it— or
before he escapes from it and in order that he should be able to escape from it—there is always a period of soulsearching
and rebellion. The rebel is a man who is on the point of accepting or rejecting the sacred and determined
on laying claim to a human situation in which all the answers are human—in other words, formulated in reasonable
terms. From this moment every question, every word, is an act of rebellion while in the sacred world every word is
an act of grace. It would be possible to demonstrate in this manner that only two possible worlds can exist for the
human mind: the sacred (or, to speak in Christian terms, the world of grace3) and the world of rebellion. The
disappearance of one is equivalent to the appearance of the other, despite the fact that this appearance can take place
in disconcerting forms. There again we rediscover the All or Nothing. The present interest of the problem of
rebellion only springs from the fact that nowadays whole societies have wanted to discard the sacred. We live in an
unsacrosanct moment in history. Insurrection is certainly not the sum total of human experience. But history today,
with all its storm and strife, compels us to say that rebellion is one of the essential dimensions of man. It is our
historic reality. Unless we choose to ignore reality, we must find our values in it. Is it possible to find a rule of
conduct outside the realm of religion and its absolute values? That is the question raised by rebellion.
We have already noted the confused values that are called into play by incipient rebellion. Now we must inquire if
these values are to be found again in contemporary forms of rebellious thought and action, and if they are, we must
specify their content. But, before going any farther, let us note that the basis of these values is rebellion
3 There is, of course, an act of metaphysical rebellion at the beginning of Christianity, but the resurrection of Christ
and the annunciation of the kingdom of heaven interpreted as a promise of eternal life are the answers that render it
futile.
itself. Man's solidarity is founded upon rebellion, and rebellion, in its turn, can only find its justification in
this solidarity. We have, then, the right to say that any rebellion which claims the right to deny or destroy
this solidarity loses simultaneously its right to be called rebellion and becomes in reality an acquiescence
in murder. In the same way, this solidarity, except in so far as religion is concerned, comes to life only on
the level of rebellion. And so the real drama of revolutionary thought is announced. In order to exist, man
must rebel, but rebellion must respect the limit it discovers in itself—a limit where minds meet and, in
meeting, begin to exist. Rebellious thought, therefore, cannot dispense with memory: it is a perpetual state
of tension. In studying its actions and its results, we shall have to say, each time, whether it remains
faithful to its first noble promise or if, through indolence or folly, it forgets its original purpose and
plunges into a mire of tyranny or servitude.
Meanwhile, we can sum up the initial progress that the spirit of rebellion provokes in a mind that is
originally imbued with the absurdity and apparent sterility of the world. In absurdist experience, suffering
is individual. But from the moment when a movement of rebellion begins, suffering is seen as a collective
experience. Therefore the first progressive step for a mind overwhelmed by the strangeness of things is to
realize that this feeling of strangeness is shared with all men and that human reality, in its entirety, suffers
from the distance which separates it from the rest of the universe. The malady experienced by a single
man becomes a mass plague. In our daily trials rebellion plays the same role as does the "cogito" in the
realm of thought: it is the first piece of evidence. But this evidence lures the individual from his solitude.
It founds its first value on the whole human race. I rebel—therefore we exist.

Part TwoMetaphysical Rebellion
Metaphysical rebellion is the movement by which man protests against his condition and against the
whole of creation. It is metaphysical because it contests the ends of man and of creation. The slave
protests against the condition in which he finds himself within his state of slavery; the metaphysical rebel
protests against the condition in which he finds himself as a man. The rebel slave affirms that there is
something in him that will not tolerate the manner in which his master treats him; the metaphysical rebel
declares that he is frustrated by the universe. For both of them, it is not only a question of pure and simple
negation. In both cases, in fact, we find a value judgment in the name of which the rebel refuses to
approve the condition in which he finds himself.
The slave who opposes his master is not concerned, let us note, with repudiating his master as a human
being. He repudiates him as a master. He denies that he has the right to deny him, a slave, on grounds of
necessity. The master is discredited to the exact extent that he fails to respond to a demand which he
ignores. If men cannot refer to a common value, recognized by all as existing in each one, then man is
incomprehensible to man. The rebel demands that this value should be clearly recognized in himself
because he knows or suspects that, without this principle, crime and disorder would reign throughout the
world. An act of rebellion on his part seems like a demand for clarity and unity. The most elementary
form of rebellion, paradoxically, expresses an aspiration to order.
This description can be applied, word for word, to the metaphysical rebel. He attacks a shattered world in
order to demand unity from it. He opposes the principle of justice which he finds in himself to the principle of
injustice which he sees being applied in the world. Thus all he wants, originally, is to resolve this contradiction and
establish the unitarian reign of justice, if he can, or of injustice, if he is driven to extremes. Meanwhile, he
denounces the contradiction. Metaphysical rebellion is a claim, motivated by the concept of a complete unity,
against the suffering of life and death and a protest against the human condition both for its incompleteness, thanks
to death, and its wastefulness, thanks to evil. If a mass death sentence defines the human condition, then rebellion, in
one sense, is its contemporary. At the same time that he rejects his mortality, the rebel refuses to recognize the
power that compels him to live in this condition. The metaphysical rebel is therefore not definitely an atheist, as one
might think him, but he is inevitably a blasphemer. Quite simply, he blasphemes primarily in the name of order,
denouncing God as the father of death and as the supreme outrage.
The rebel slave will help us to throw light on this point. He established, by his protest, the existence of the master
against whom he rebelled. But at the same time he demonstrated that his master's power was dependent on his own
subordination and he affirmed his own power: the power of continually questioning the superiority of his master. In
this respect master and slave are really in the same boat: the temporary sway of the former is as relative as the
submission of the latter. The two forces assert themselves alternately at the moment of rebellion until they confront
each other for a fight to the death, and one or the other temporarily disappears.
In the same way, if the metaphysical rebel ranges himself against a power whose existence he simultaneously
affirms, he only admits the existence of this power at the very instant that he calls it into question. Then he involves
this superior being in the same humiliating adventure as mankind's, its ineffectual power being the equivalent of our
ineffectual condition. He subjects it to our power of refusal, bends it to the unbending part of human nature, forcibly
integrates it into an existence that we render absurd, and finally drags it from its refuge outside time
and involves it in history, very far from the eternal stability that it can find only in the unanimous
submission of all men. Thus rebellion affirms that, on its own level, any concept of superior existence is
contradictory, to say the least.
And so the history of metaphysical rebellion cannot be confused with that of atheism. From a certain
point of view it is even confused with the contemporary history of religious sentiment. The rebel defies
more than he denies. Originally, at least, he does not suppress God; he merely talks to Him as an equal.
But it is not a polite dialogue. It is a polemic animated by the desire to conquer. The slave begins by
demanding justice and ends by wanting to wear a crown. He must dominate in his turn. His insurrection
against his condition becomes an unlimited campaign against the heavens for the purpose of bringing
back a captive king who will first be dethroned and finally condemned to death. Human rebellion ends in
metaphysical revolution. It progresses from appearances to acts, from the dandy to the revolutionary.
When the throne of God is overturned, the rebel realizes that it is now his own responsibility to create the
justice, order, and unity that he sought in vain within his own condition, and in this way to justify the fall
of God. Then begins the desperate effort to create, at the price of crime and murder if necessary, the
dominion of man. This will not come about without terrible consequences, of which we are so far only
aware of a few. But these consequences are in no way due to rebellion itself, or at least they only occur to
the extent that the rebel forgets his original purpose, tires of the tremendous tension created by refusing to
give a positive or negative answer, and finally abandons himself to complete negation or total submission.
Metaphysical insurrection, in its first stages, offers us the same positive content as the slave's rebellion.
Our task will be to examine what becomes of this positive content of rebellion in the actions that claim to
originate from it and to explain where the fidelity or infidelity of the rebel to the origins of his revolt
finally leads him.
The Sons of Cain Metaphysical rebellion, in the real sense of the term, does not appear, in coherent
form, in the history of ideas until the end of the eighteenth century—when modern times begin to the
accompaniment of the crash of falling ramparts. But from then on, its consequences develop
uninterruptedly and it is no exaggeration to say that they have shaped the history of our times. Does this
mean that metaphysical rebellion had no signi6cance previous to this date? In any event, its origins must
belong to the remote past, in that we like to believe that we live in Promethean times. But is this really a
Promethean age?
The first mythologies describe Prometheus as an eternal martyr, chained to a pillar, at the ends of the
earth, condemned forever because he refuses to ask forgiveness. AEschylus adds still further to his
stature, endows him with lucidity ("no misfortune can fall upon me that I have not myself already
foreseen"), makes him cry out his hatred of all the gods, and, plunging him into "a stormy sea of mortal
despair," finally abandons him to thunder and lightning: "Ah! see the injustice I endure!"
It cannot be said, therefore, that the ancients were unaware of metaphysical rebellion. Long before Satan,
they created a touching and noble image of the Rebel and gave us the most perfect myth of the
intelligence in revolt. The inexhaustible genius of the Greeks, which gave such a prominent place to
myths of unity and simplicity, was still able to formulate the concept of insurrection. Beyond a doubt,
certain characteristics of the Promethean myth still survive in the history of rebellion as we are living it:
the fight against death ("I have delivered men from being obsessed by death"), Messianism ("I have
instilled blind
hopes into men's minds"), philanthropy ("Enemy of Zeus ... for having loved mankind too much").
But we must not forget that Prometheus the Fire-bringer, the last drama of AEschylus' trilogy,
proclaimed the reign of the pardoned rebel. The Greeks are never vindictive. In their most audacious
flights they always remain faithful to the idea of moderation, a concept they deified. Their rebel does not
range himself against all creation, but against Zeus, who is never anything more than one god among
many and who himself was mortal. Prometheus himself is a demigod. It is a question of settling a
particular account, of a dispute about what is good, and not of a universal struggle between good and evil.
The ancients, even though they believed in destiny, believed primarily in nature, in which they
participated wholeheartedly. To rebel against nature amounted to rebelling against oneself. It was butting
one's head against a wall. Therefore the only coherent act of rebellion was to commit suicide. Destiny, for
the Greeks, was a blind force to which one submitted, just as one submitted to the forces of nature. The
acme of excess to the Greek mind was to beat the sea with rods—an act of insanity worthy only of
barbarians. Of course, the Greeks described excess, since it exists, but they gave it its proper place and, by
doing so, also defined its limits. Achilles' defiance after the death of Patroclus, the imprecations of the
Greek tragic heroes cursing their fate, do not imply complete condemnation. CEdipus knows that he is not
innocent. He is guilty in spite of himself; he is also part of destiny. He complains, but he says nothing
irreparable. Antigone rebels, but she does so in the name of tradition, in order that her brothers may find
rest in the tomb and that the appropriate rites may be observed. In her case, rebellion is, in one sense,
reactionary. The Greek mind has two aspects and in its meditations almost always re-echoes, as
counterpoint to its most tragic melodies, the eternal words of CEdipus, who, blind and desperate,
recognizes that all is for the best. Affirmation counterbalances negation. Even when Plato anticipates,
with Callicles, the most common type of Nietzschean, even when the latter exclaims: "But when a man
appears who has the necessary character . . . he will escape, he will trample on our formulas, our magic
spells, our incantations, and the laws, which are all, without exception, contrary to nature. Our slave has
rebelled and has shown himself to be the master"—even then, though he rejects law, he speaks in the
name of nature.
Metaphysical rebellion presupposes a simplified view of creation—which was inconceivable to the
Greeks. In their minds, there were not gods on one side and men on the other, but a series of stages
leading from one to the other. The idea of innocence opposed to guilt, the concept of all of history
summed up in the struggle between good and evil, was foreign to them. In their universe there were more
mistakes than crimes, and the only definitive crime was excess. In a world entirely dominated by history,
which ours threatens to become, there are no longer any mistakes, but only crimes, of which the greatest
is moderation. This explains the curious mixture of ferocity and forbearance which we find in Greek
mythology. The Greeks never made the human mind into an armed camp, and in this respect we are
inferior to them. Rebellion, after all, can only be imagined in terms of opposition to someone. The only
thing that gives meaning to human protest is the idea of a personal god who has created, and is therefore
responsible for, everything. And so we can say, without being paradoxical, that in the Western World the
history of rebellion is inseparable from the history of Christianity. We have to wait, in fact, until the very
last moments of Greek thought to see rebellion begin to find expression among transitional thinkers—
nowhere more profoundly than in the works of Epicurus and Lucretius.
The appalling sadness of Epicurus already strikes a new note. It has its roots, no doubt, in the fear of
death, with which the Greek mind was not unfamiliar. But the pathos with which this fear is expressed is
very revealing. "We can take precautions against all sorts of things; but so far as death is concerned, we
all of us live like the inhabitants of a defenseless citadel." Lucretius is more explicit: "The substance of
this vast world is condemned to death and ruin." Therefore why postpone enjoyment? "We spend our
lives," writes Epicurus, "in waiting, and we are all condemned to die." Therefore we must all enjoy
ourselves. But what a strange form of enjoyment! It consists in sealing up the walls of the citadel, of
making sure of a
supply of bread and water and of living in darkness and silence. Death hovers over us, therefore we must prove that
death is of no importance. Like Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, Epicurus banishes death from human existence.
"Death has no meaning for us, for what is indefinable is incapable of feeling, and what is incapable of feeling has no
meaning for us." Is this the equivalent of nothingness? No, for everything in this particular universe is matter, and
death only means a return to one's element. Existence is epitomized in a stone. The strange sensual pleasure of
which Epicurus speaks consists, above all, in an absence of pain; it is the pleasure of a stone. By an admirable
maneuver—which we shall find again in the great French classicists—Epicurus, in order to escape from destiny,
destroys sensibility, having first destroyed its primary manifestation: hope. What this Greek philosopher says about
the gods cannot be interpreted otherwise. All the unhap-piness of human beings springs from the hope that tempts
them from the silence of the citadel and exposes them on the ramparts in expectation of salvation. Unreasonable
aspirations have no other effect than to reopen carefully bandaged wounds. That is why Epicurus does not deny the
gods; he banishes them, and so precipitately that man has no alternative but to retreat once more into the citadel.
"The happy and immortal being has no preoccupations of his own and no concern with the affairs of others."
Lucretius goes even farther: "It is incontestable that the gods, by their very nature, enjoy their immortality in perfect
peace, completely unaware of our affairs, from which they are utterly detached." Therefore let us forget the gods, let
us never even think about them, and "neither your thoughts during the day nor your dreams at night will ever be
troubled."
Later we shall rediscover this eternal theme of rebellion, but with important modifications. A god who does not
reward or punish, a god who turns a deaf ear, is the rebel's only religious conception. But while Vigny will curse the
silence of his divinity, Epicurus considers that, as death is inevitable, silence on the part of man is a better
preparation for this fate than divine words. This strange mind wears itself out in a sustained attempt to build
ramparts around mankind, to fortify the citadel and
to stifle the irrepressible cry of human hope. Only when this strategic retreat has been accomplished does Epicurus,
like a god among men, celebrate his victory with a song that clearly denotes the defensive aspect of his rebellion. "I
have escaped your ambush, O destiny, I have closed all paths by which you might assail me. We shall not be
conquered either by you or by any other evil power. And when the inevitable hour of departure strikes, our scorn for
those who vainly cling to existence will burst forth in this proud song: 'Ah, with what dignity we have lived.' "
Alone among his contemporaries Lucretius carries this logic much farther and finally brings it to the central problem
of modern philosophy. He adds nothing fundamental to Epicurus. He, too, refuses to accept any explanatory
principle that cannot be tested by the senses. The atom is only a last refuge where man, reduced to his primary
elements, pursues a kind of blind and deaf immortality—an immortal death—which for Lucretius represents, as it
does for Epicurus, the only possible form of happiness. He has to admit, however, that atoms do not aggregate of
their own accord, and rather than believe in a superior law and, finally, in the destiny he wishes to deny, he accepts
the concept of a purely fortuitous mutation, the clinamen, in which the atoms meet and group themselves together.
Already, as we can see, the great problem of modern times arises: the discovery that to rescue man from destiny is to
deliver him to chance. That is why the contemporary mind is trying so desperately hard to restore destiny to man—a
historical destiny this time. Lucretius has not reached this point. His hatred of destiny and death is assuaged by this
blind universe where atoms accidentally form human beings and where human beings accidentally return to atoms.
But his vocabulary bears witness to a new kind of sensibility. The walled citadel becomes an armed camp. Maenia
mundi, the ramparts of the world, is one of the key expressions of Lucretius' rhetoric. The main preoccupation in this
armed camp is, of course, to silence hope. But Epicurus' methodical renunciation is transformed into a quivering
asceticism, which is sometimes crowned with execrations. Piety, for Lucretius, undoubtedly consists in "being able
to contemplate everything with an untroubled mind." But, nevertheless,
his mind reels at the injustices done to man. Spurred on by indignation, he weaves new concepts
of crime, innocence, culpability, and punishment into his great poem on the nature of things. In it he
speaks of "religion's first crime," Iphigenia's martyred innocence, and of the tendency of the divinity to
"often ignore the guilty and to mete out undeserved punishment by slaughtering the innocent." If
Lucretius scoffs at the fear of punishment in the next world, it is not as a gesture of defensive rebellion in
the manner of Epicurus, but as a process of aggressive reasoning: why should evil be punished when we
can easily see, here on earth, that goodness is not rewarded?
In Lucretius' epic poem, Epicurus himself becomes the proud rebel he never actually was. "When in the
eyes of all mankind humanity was leading an abject existence on earth, crushed beneath the weight of a
religion whose hideous aspect peered down from the heights of the celestial regions, the first to dare, a
Greek, a man, raised his mortal eyes and challenged the gods. ... In this way religion, in its turn, was
overthrown and trampled underfoot, and this victory elevates us to the heavens." Here we can sense the
difference between this new type of blasphemy and the ancient malediction. The Greek heroes could
aspire to become gods, but simultaneously with the gods who already existed. At that time it was simply a
matter of promotion. Lucretius' hero, on the other hand, embarks on a revolution. By repudiating the
unworthy and criminal gods, he takes their place himself. He sallies forth from the armed camp and opens
the first attack on divinity in the name of human suffering. In the ancient world, murder is both
inexplicable and inexpiable. Already with Lucretius, murder by man is only an answer to murder by the
gods. It is not pure coincidence that Lucretius' poem ends with a prodigious image of the sanctuaries of
the gods swollen with the accusing corpses of plague victims.
This new language is incomprehensible without the concept of a personal god, which is slowly beginning
to form in the minds of Lucretius' and Epicurus' contemporaries. Only a personal god can be asked by the
rebel for
a personal accounting. When the personal god begins his reign, rebellion assumes its most resolutely
ferocious aspect and pronounces a definitive no. With Cain, the first act of rebellion coincides with the
first crime. The history of rebellion, as we are experiencing it today, has far more to do with the children
of Cain than with the disciples of Prometheus. In this sense it is the God of the Old Testament who is
primarily responsible for mobilizing the forces of rebellion. Inversely, one must submit to the God of
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when, like Pascal, one has run the full course of intellectual rebellion. The
mind most prone to doubt always aspires to the greatest degree of Jansenism.
From this point of view, the New Testament can be considered as an attempt to answer, in advance, every
Cain in the world, by painting the figure of God in softer colors and by creating an intercessor between
God and man. Christ came to solve two major problems, evil and death, which are precisely the problems
that preoccupy the rebel. His solution consisted, first, in experiencing them. The man-god suffers, too—
with patience. Evil and death can no longer be entirely imputed to Him since He suffers and dies. The
night on Golgotha is so important in the history of man only because, in its shadow, the divinity
abandoned its traditional privileges and drank to the last drop, despair included, the agony of death. This
is the explanation of the Lama sabactani and the heartrending doubt of Christ in agony. The agony would
have been mild if it had been alleviated by hopes of eternity. For God to be a man, he must despair.
Ghosticism, which is the fruit of Greco-Christian collaboration, has tried for two centuries, in reaction
against Judaic thought, to promote this concept. We know, for example, the vast number of intercessors
invented by Valentinus. But the aeons of this particular metaphysical skirmish are the equivalent of the
intermediary truths to be found in Hellenism. Their aim is to diminish the absurdity of an intimate
relationship between suffering humanity and an implacable god. This is the special role of Marcion's cruel
and bellicose second god. This demiurge is responsible for the creation of a finite world and of death. Our
duty is to hate him and at the same time to
deny everything that he has created, by means of asceticism, to the point of destroying, by sexual
abstinence, all creation. This form of asceticism is therefore both proud and rebellious. Marcion simply
alters the course of rebellion and directs it toward an inferior god so as to be better able to exalt the
superior god. Gnosis, owing to its Greek origins, remains conciliatory and tends to destroy the Judaic
heritage in Christianity. It also wanted to avoid Augustinism, by anticipating it, in that Augustinism
provides arguments for every form of rebellion. To Basili-des, for example, the martyrs were sinners, and
so was Christ, because they suffered. A strange conception, but whose aim is to remove the element of
injustice from suffering. The Gnostics only wanted to substitute the Greek idea of initiation, which allows
mankind every possible chance, for the concept of an all-powerful and arbitrary forgiveness. The
enormous number of sects among the second-generation Gnostics indicates how desperate and diversified
was the attempt on the part of Greek thought to make the Christian universe more accessible and to
remove the motives for a rebellion that Hellenism considered the worst of all evils. But the Church
condemned this attempt and, by condemning it, swelled the ranks of the rebels.
In that the children of Cain have triumphed, increasingly, throughout the centuries, the God of the Old
Testament can be said to have been incredibly successful. Paradoxically, the blasphemers have injected
new life into the jealous God whom Christianity wished to banish from history. One of their most
profoundly audacious acts was to recruit Christ into their camp by making His story end on the Cross and
on the bitter note of the cry that precedes His agony. By this means it was possible to preserve the
implacable face of a God of hate—which coincided far better with creation as the rebels conceived it.
Until Dostoievsky and Nietzsche, rebellion is directed only against a cruel and capricious divinity—a
divinity who prefers, without any convincing motive, Abel's sacrifice to Cain's and, by so doing, provokes
the first murder. Dostoievsky, in the realm of imagination, and Nietzsche, in the realm of fact,
enormously increase the field of rebellious thought and demand an accounting from the
God of love Himself. Nietzsche believes that God is dead in the souls of his contemporaries. Therefore he
attacks, like his predecessor Stirner, the illusion of God that lingers, under the guise of morality, in the
thought of his times. But until they appear upon the scene, the freethinkers, for example, were content to
deny the truth of the history of Christ ("that dull story," in Sade's words) and to maintain, by their denials,
the tradition of an avenging god.
On the other hand, for as long as the Western World has been Christian, the Gospels have been the
interpreter between heaven and earth. Each time a solitary cry of rebellion was uttered, the answer came
in the form of an even more terrible suffering. In that Christ had suffered, and had suffered voluntarily,
suffering was no longer unjust and all pain was necessary. In one sense, Christianity's bitter intuition and
legitimate pessimism concerning human behavior is based on the assumption that over-all injustice is as
satisfying to man as total justice. Only the sacrifice of an innocent god could justify the endless and
universal torture of innocence. Only the most abject suffering by God could assuage man's agony. If
everything, without exception, in heaven and earth is doomed to pain and suffering, then a strange form of
happiness is possible.
But from the moment when Christianity, emerging from its period of triumph, found itself submitted to
the critical eye of reason—to the point where the divinity of Christ was denied—suffering once more
became the lot of man. Jesus profaned is no more than just one more innocent man whom the
representatives of the God of Abraham tortured in a spectacular manner. The abyss that separates the
master from the slaves opens again and the cry of revolt falls on the deaf ears of a jealous God. The
freethinkers have prepared the way for this new dichotomy by attacking, with all the usual precautions,
the morality and divinity of Christ. Callot's universe sums up quite satisfactorily this world of
hallucination and wretchedness whose inhabitants begin by sniggering up their sleeves and end—with
Moliere's Don Juan—by laughing to high heaven. During the two centuries which prepare the way for the
upheavals, both revolutionary and sacrilegious, of the eighteenth century, all the efforts of the freethinkers
are bent on making Christ an innocent, or a simpleton, so as to annex Him to the world of man, endowed
with all the noble or derisory qualities of man. Thus the ground will be prepared for the great offensive
against a hostile heaven.

Absolute Negation
Historically speaking, the first coherent offensive is that of Sade, who musters into one vast war machine the
arguments of the freethinkers up to Father Meslier and Voltaire. His negation is also, of course, the most extreme.
From rebellion Sade can only deduce an absolute negative. Twenty-seven years in prison do not, in fact, produce a
very conciliatory form of intelligence. Such a long period of confinement produces either weaklings or killers and
sometimes a combination of both. If the mind is strong enough to construct in a prison cell a moral philosophy that
is not one of submission, it will generally be one of domination. Every ethic based on solitude implies the exercise
of power. In this respect Sade is the archetype, for in so far as society treated him atrociously, he responded in an
atrocious manner. The writer, despite a few happy phrases and the thoughtless praises of our contemporaries, is
secondary. He is admired today, with so much ingenuity, for reasons which have nothing to do with literature.
He is exalted as the philosopher in chains and the first theoretician of absolute rebellion. He might well have been.
In prison, dreams have no limits and reality is no curb. Intelligence in chains loses in lucidity what it gains in
intensity. The only logic known to Sade was the logic of his feelings. He did not create a philosophy, but pursued a
monstrous dream of revenge. Only the dream turned out to be prophetic. His desperate demand for freedom led Sade
into the kingdom of servitude; his inordinate thirst for a form of life he could never attain was assuaged in the
successive frenzies of a dream of universal
destruction. In this way, at least, Sade is our contemporary. Let us follow his successive negations.
A Man of Letters
Is Sade an atheist? He says so, and we believe him, before going to prison, in his Dialogue between a Priest and a
Dying Man; and from then on we are dumbfounded by his passion for sacrilege. One of his cruelest characters,
Saint-Fond, does not in any sense deny God. He is content to develop a gnostic theory of a wicked demiurge and to
draw the proper conclusions from it. Saint-Fond, it is said, is not Sade. No, of course not. A character is never the
author who created him. It is quite likely, however, that an author may be all his characters simultaneously. Now, all
Sade's atheists suppose, in principle, the nonexistence of God for the obvious reason that His existence would imply
that He was indifferent, wicked, or cruel. Sade's greatest work ends with a demonstration of the stupidity and spite
of the divinity. The innocent Justine runs through the storm and the wicked Noirceuil swears that he will be
converted if divine retribution consents to spare her life. Justine is struck by lightning, Noirceuil triumphs, and
human crime continues to be man's answer to divine crime. Thus there is a freethinker wager that is the answer to
the Pascalian wager.
The idea of God which Sade conceives for himself is, therefore, of a criminal divinity who oppresses and denies
mankind. That murder is an attribute of the divinity is quite evident, according to Sade, from the history of religions.
Why, then, should man be virtuous? Sade's first step as a prisoner is to jump to the most extreme conclusions. If God
kills and repudiates mankind, there is nothing to stop one from killing and repudiating one's fellow men. This
irritable challenge in no way resembles the tranquil negation that is still to be found in the Dialogue of 1782. The
man who exclaims: "I have nothing, I give nothing," and who concludes: "Virtue and vice are indistinguishable in
the tomb," is neither happy nor tranquil. The concept of God is the only thing, according to him, "which he cannot
forgive man." The word forgive is
already rather strange in the mouth of this expert in torture. But it is himself whom he cannot forgive for an idea that
his desperate view of the world, and his condition as a prisoner, completely refute. A double rebellion— against the
order of the universe and against himself—is henceforth going to be the guiding principle of Sade's reasoning. In
that these two forms of rebellion are contradictory except in the disturbed mind of a victim of persecution, his
reasoning is always either ambiguous or legitimate according to whether it is considered in the light of logic or in an
attempt at compassion.
He therefore denies man and his morality because God denies them. But he denies God even though He has served
as his accomplice and guarantor up to now. For what reason? Because of the strongest instinct to be found in one
who is condemned by the hatred of mankind to live behind prison walls: the sexual instinct. What is this instinct? On
the one hand, it is the ultimate expression of nature,1 and, on the other, the blind force that demands the total
subjection of human beings, even at the price of their destruction. Sade denies God in the name of nature—the
ideological concepts of his time presented it in mechanistic form—and he makes nature a power bent on destruction.
For him, nature is sex; his logic leads him to a lawless universe where the only master is the inordinate energy of
desire. This is his delirious kingdom, in which he finds his finest means of expression: "What are all the creatures of
the earth in comparison with a single one of our desires!" The long arguments by which Sade's heroes demonstrate
that nature has need of crime, that it must destroy in order to create, and that we help nature create from the moment
we destroy it ourselves, are only aimed at establishing absolute freedom for the prisoner, Sade, who is too unjustly
punished not to long for the explosion that will blow everything to pieces. In this respect he goes against his times:
the freedom he demands is not one of principles, but of instincts.
Sade dreamed, no doubt, of a universal republic, whose scheme he reveals through his wise reformer, Zame.He
1 Sade's great criminals excuse their crimes on the ground that they were born with uncontrollable sexual appetites
about which they could do nothing.
shows us, by this means, that one of the purposes of rebellion is to liberate the whole world, in that, as the
movement accelerates, rebellion is less and less willing to accept limitations. But everything about him
contradicts this pious dream. He is no friend of humanity, he hates philanthropists. The equality of which
he sometimes speaks is a mathematical concept: the equivalence of the objects that comprise the human
race, the abject equality of the victims. Real fulfillment, for the man who allows absolutely free rein to his
desires and who must dominate everything, lies in hatred. Sade's republic is not founded on liberty but on
libertinism. "Justice," this peculiar democrat writes, "has no real existence. It is the divinity of all the
passions."
Nothing is more revealing in this respect than the famous lampoon, read by Dolmance in the Philosophie
du Boudoir, which has the curious title: People of France, one more effort if you want to be republicans.
Pierre Klossowski2 is right in attaching so much importance to it, for this lampoon demonstrates to the
revolutionaries that their republic is founded on the murder of the King —who was King by divine
right—and that by guillotining God on January 21, 1793 they deprived themselves forever of the right to
outlaw crime or to censure malevolent instincts. The monarchy supported the concept of a God who, in
conjunction with itself, created all laws. As for the Republic, it stands alone, and morality was supposed
to exist without benefit of the Commandments. It is doubtful, however, that Sade, as Klossowski
maintains, had a profound sense of sacrilege and that an almost religious horror led him to the conclusions
that he expresses. It is much more likely that he came to these conclusions first and afterwards perceived
the correct arguments to justify the absolute moral license that he wanted the government of his time to
sanction. Logic founded on passions reverses the traditional sequence of reasoning and places the
conclusions before the premises. To be convinced of this we only have to appraise the admirable
sequence of sophisms by which Sade, in this passage, justifies calumny, theft, and murder and demands
that they be tolerated under the new dispensation.
2 Sade, mon prochain.
It is then, however, that his thoughts are most profound. He rejects, with exceptional perspicacity for his times, the
presumptuous alliance of freedom with virtue. Freedom, particularly when it is a prisoner's dream, cannot endure
limitations. It must sanction crime or it is no longer freedom. On this essential point Sade never varies. This man
who never preached anything but contradictions only achieves coherence—and of a most complete kind— when he
talks of capital punishment. An addict of refined ways of execution, a theoretician of sexual crime, he was never
able to tolerate legal crime. "My imprisonment by the State, with the guillotine under my very eyes, was far more
horrible to me than all the Bastilles imaginable." From this feeling of horror he drew the strength to be moderate,
publicly, during the Terror, and to intervene generously on behalf of his mother-in-law, despite the fact that she had
had him imprisoned. A few years later Nodier summed up, perhaps without knowing it, the position obstinately
defended by Sade: "To kill a man in a paroxysm of passion is understandable. To have him killed by someone else
after calm and serious meditation and on the pretext of duty honorably discharged is incomprehensible." Here we
find the germ of an idea which again will be developed by Sade: he who kills must pay with his own life. Sade is
more moral, we see, than our contemporaries.
But his hatred for the death penalty is at first no more than a hatred for men who are sufficiently convinced of their
own virtue to dare to inflict capital punishment, when they themselves are criminals. You cannot simultaneously
choose crime for yourself and punishment for others. You must open the prison gates or give an impossible proof of
your own innocence. From the moment you accept murder, even if only once, you must allow it universally. The
criminal who acts according to nature cannot, without betraying his office, range himself on the side of the law.
"One more effort if you want to be republicans" means: "Accept the freedom of crime, the only reasonable attitude,
and enter forever into a state of insurrection as you enter into a state of grace." Thus total submission to evil leads to
an appalling penitence, which cannot fail to horrify the Republic of enlightenment and
of natural goodness. By a significant coincidence, the manuscript of One Hundred and Twenty Days of
Sodom was burned during the first riot of the Republic, which could hardly fail to denounce Sade's
heretical theories of freedom and to throw so compromising a supporter into prison once more. By so
doing, it gave him the regrettable opportunity of developing his rebellious logic still further. The universal
republic could be a dream for Sade, but never a temptation. In politics his real position is cynicism. In his
Society of the Friends of Crime he declares himself ostensibly in favor of the government and its laws,
which he meanwhile has every intention of violating. It is the same impulse that makes the lowest form of
criminal vote for conservative candidates. The plan that Sade had in mind assures the benevolent
neutrality of the authorities. The republic of crime cannot, for the moment at least, be universal. It must
pretend to obey the law. In a world that knows no other rule than murder, beneath a criminal heaven, and
in the name of a criminal nature, however, Sade, in reality, obeys no other law than that of inexhaustible
desire. But to desire without limit is the equivalent of being desired without limit. License to destroy
supposes that you yourself can be destroyed. Therefore you must struggle and dominate. The law of this
world is nothing but the law of force; its driving force, the will to power.
The advocate of crime really only respects two kinds of power: one, which he finds among his own class,
founded on the accident of birth, and the other by which, through sheer villainy, an underdog raises
himself to the level of the libertines of noble birth whom Sade makes his heroes. This powerful little
group of initiates knows that it has all the rights. Anyone who doubts, even for a second, these formidable
privileges is immediately driven from the flock, and once more becomes a victim. Thus a sort of
aristocratic morality is created through which a little group of men and women manage to entrench
themselves above a caste of slaves because they possess the secret of a strange knowledge. The only
problem for them consists in organizing themselves so as to be able to exercise fully their rights which
have the terrifying scope of desire.
They cannot hope to dominate the entire universe
until the law of crime has been accepted by the universe. Sade never believed that his fellow countrymen
would be capable of the additional effort needed to make it "republican." But if crime and desire are not
the law of the entire universe, if they do not reign at least over a specified territory, they are no longer
unifying principles, but ferments of conflict. They are no longer the law, and man returns to chaos and
confusion. Thus it is necessary to create from all these fragments a world that exactly coincides with the
new law. The need for unity, which Creation leaves unsatisfied, is fulfilled, at all costs, in a microcosm.
The law of power never has the patience to await complete control of the world. It must fix the
boundaries, without delay, of the territory where it holds sway, even if it means surrounding it with
barbed wire and observation towers.
For Sade, the law of power implies barred gates, castles with seven circumvallations from which it is
impossible to escape, and where a society founded on desire and crime functions unimpeded, according to
the rules of an implacable system. The most unbridled rebellion, insistence on complete freedom, lead to
the total subjection of the majority. For Sade, man's emancipation is consummated in these strongholds of
debauchery where a kind of bureaucracy of vice rules over the life and death of the men and women who
have committed themselves forever to the hell of their desires. His works abound with descriptions of
these privileged places where feudal libertines, to demonstrate to their assembled victims their absolute
impotence and servitude, always repeat the Duc de Blangis's speech to the common people of the One
Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom: "You are already dead to the world."
Sade himself also inhabited the tower of Freedom, but in the Bastille. Absolute rebellion took refuge with
him in a sordid fortress from which no one, either persecuted or persecutors, could ever escape. To
establish his freedom, he had to create absolute necessity. Unlimited freedom of desire implies the
negation of others and the suppression of pity. The heart, that "weak spot of the intellect," must be
exterminated; the locked room and the system will see to that. The system, which plays a role of capital
importance in Sade's fabulous castles, perpetuates a universe
of mistrust. It helps to anticipate everything so that no unexpected tenderness or pity occur to upset the plans for
complete enjoyment. It is a curious kind of pleasure, no doubt, which obeys the commandment: "We shall rise every
morning at ten o'clock"! But enjoyment must be prevented from degenerating into attachment, it must be put in
parentheses and toughened. Objects of enjoyment must also never be allowed to appear as persons. If man is "an
absolutely material species of plant," he can only be treated as an object, and as an object for experiment. In Sade's
fortress republic, there are only machines and mechanics. The system, which dictates the method of employing the
machines, puts everything in its right place. His infamous convents have their rule—significantly copied from that
of religious communities. Thus the libertine indulges in public confession. But the process is changed: "If his
conduct is pure, he is censured."
Sade, as was the custom of his period, constructed ideal societies. But, contrary to the custom of his period, he
codifies the natural wickedness of mankind. He meticulously constructs a citadel of force and hatred, pioneer that he
is, even to the point of calculating mathematically the amount of the freedom he succeeded in destroying. He sums
up his philosophy with an unemotional accounting of crimes: "Massacred before the first of March: 10. After the
first of March: 20. To come: 16. Total: 46." A pioneer, no doubt, but a limited one, as we can see.
If that were all, Sade would be worthy only of the interest that attaches to all misunderstood pioneers. But once the
drawbridge is up, life in the castle must go on. No matter how meticulous the system, it cannot foresee every
eventuality. It can destroy, but it cannot create. The masters of these tortured communities do not find the
satisfaction they so desperately desire. Sade often evokes the "pleasant habit of crime." Nothing here, however,
seems very pleasant—more like the fury of a man in chains. The point, in fact, is to enjoy oneself, and the maximum
of enjoyment coincides with the maximum of destruction. To possess what one is going to kill, to copulate with
suffering—those are the moments of freedom toward which the entire organization of Sade's castles is directed. But
from the moment when sexual crime destroys the
object of desire, it also destroys desire, which exists only at the precise moment of destruction. Then
another object must be brought under subjection and killed again, and then another, and so on to an
infinity of all possible objects. This leads to that dreary accumulation of erotic and criminal scenes in
Sade's novels, which, paradoxically, leaves the reader with the impression of a hideous chastity.
What part, in this universe, could pleasure play or the exquisite joy of acquiescent and accomplice
bodies? In it we find an impossible quest for escape from despair—a quest that finishes, nevertheless, in a
desperate race from servitude to servitude and from prison to prison. If only nature is real and if, in
nature, only desire and destruction are legitimate, then, in that all humanity does not suffice to assuage the
thirst for blood, the path of destruction must lead to universal annihilation. We must become, according to
Sade's formula, nature's executioner. But even that position is not achieved too easily. When the accounts
are closed, when all the victims are massacred, the executioners are left face to face in the deserted castle.
Something is still missing. The tortured bodies return, in their elements, to nature and will be born again.
Even murder cannot be fully consummated: "Murder only deprives the victim of his first life; a means
must be found of depriving him of his second. . . ." Sade contemplates an attack on creation: "I abhor
nature. ... I should like to upset its plans, to thwart its progress, to halt the stars in their courses, to
overturn the floating spheres of space, to destroy what serves nature and to succor all that harms it; in a
word, to insult it in all its works, and I cannot succeed in doing so." It is in vain that he dreams of a
technician who can pulverize the universe: he knows that, in the dust of the spheres, life will continue.
The attack against creation is doomed to failure. It is impossible to destroy everything, there is always a
remainder. "I cannot succeed in doing so . . ." the icy and implacable universe suddenly relents at the
appalling melancholy by which Sade, in the end and quite unwillingly, always moves us. "We could
perhaps attack the sun, deprive the universe of it, or use it to set fire to the world—those would be real
crimes. . . ." Crimes, yes, but not the
definitive crime. It is necessary to go farther. The executioners eye each other with suspicion.
They are alone, and one law alone governs them: the law of power. As they accepted it when they were
masters, they cannot reject it if it turns against them. All power tends to be unique and solitary. Murder
must be repeated: in their turn the masters will tear one another to pieces. Sade accepts this consequence
and does not flinch. A curious kind of stoicism, derived from vice, sheds a little light in the dark places of
his rebellious soul. He will not try to live again in the world of affection and compromise. The drawbridge
will not be lowered; he will accept personal annihilation. The unbridled force of his refusal achieves, at its
climax, an unconditional acceptance that is not without nobility. The master consents to be the slave in his
turn and even, perhaps, wishes to be. "The scaffold would be for me the throne of voluptuousness."
Thus the greatest degree of destruction coincides with ' the greatest degree of affirmation. The masters
throw themselves on one another, and Sade's work, dedicated to the glory of libertinism, ends by being
"strewn with corpses of libertines struck down at the height of their powers." 3 The most powerful, the
one who will survive, is the solitary, the Unique, whose glorification Sade has undertaken—in other
words, himself. At last he reigns supreme, master and God. But at the moment of his greatest victory the
dream vanishes. The Unique turns back toward the prisoner whose unbounded imagination gave birth to
him, and they become one. He is in fact alone, imprisoned in a bloodstained Bastille, entirely constructed
around a still unsatisfied, and henceforth undirected, desire for pleasure. He has only triumphed in a
dream and those ten volumes crammed with philosophy and atrocities recapitulate an unhappy form of
asceticism, an illusory advance from the total no to the absolute yes, an acquiescence in death at last,
which transfigures the assassination of everything and everyone into a collective suicide.
Sade was executed in effigy; he, too, only killed in his imagination. Prometheus ends in Onan. Sade is
still a prisoner when he dies, but this time in a lunatic asylum,
3 Maurice Blanchot: Lautreamont et Sade.
acting plays on an improvised stage with other lunatics. A derisory equivalent of the satisfaction that the
order of the world failed to give him was provided for him by dreams and by creative activity. The writer,
of course, has no need to refuse himself anything. For him, at least, boundaries disappear and desire can
be allowed free rein. In this respect Sade is the perfect man of letters. He created a fable in order to give
himself the illusion of existing. He put "the moral crime that one commits by writing" above everything
else. His merit, which is incontestable, lies in having immediately demonstrated, with the unhappy
perspicacity of accumulated rage, the extreme consequences of rebellious logic—at least when it forgets
the truth to be found in its origins. These consequences are a complete totalitarianism, universal crime, an
aristocracy of cynicism, and the desire for an apocalypse. They will be found again many years after his
death. But having tasted them, he was caught, it seems, on the horns of his own dilemma and could only
escape the dilemma in literature. Strangely enough, it is Sade who sets rebellion on the path of literature
down which it will be led still farther by the romantics. He himself is one of those writers of whom he
says: "their corruption is so dangerous, so active, that they have no other aim in printing their monstrous
works than to extend beyond their own lives the sum total of their crimes; they can commit no more, but
their accursed writings will lead others to do so, and this comforting thought which they carry with them
to the tomb consoles them for the obligation that death imposes on them of renouncing this life." Thus his
rebellious writings bear witness to his desire for survival. Even if the immortality he longs for is the
immortality of Cain, at least he longs for it, and despite himself bears witness to what is most true in
metaphysical rebellion.
Moreover, even his followers compel us to do him homage. His heirs are not all writers. Of course, there
is justification for saying that he suffered and died to stimulate the imagination of the intelligentsia in
literary cafes. But that is not all. Sade's success in our day is explained by the dream that he had in
common with contemporary thought: the demand for total freedom, and dehumaniza-tion coldly planned
by the intelligence. The reduction of
man to an object of experiment, the rule that speciSes the relation between the will to power and man as
an object, the sealed laboratory that is the scene of this monstrous experiment, are lessons which the
theoreticians of power will discover again when they come to organizing the age of slavery.
Two centuries ahead of time and on a reduced scale, Sade extolled totalitarian societies in the name of
unbridled freedom—which, in reality, rebellion does not demand. The history and the tragedy of our
times really begin with him. He only believed that a society founded on freedom of crime must coincide
with freedom of morals, as though servitude had its limits. Our times have limited themselves to blending,
in a curious manner, his dream of a universal republic and his technique of degradation. Finally, what he
hated most, legal murder, has availed itself of the discoveries that he wanted to put to the service of
instinctive murder. Crime, which he wanted to be the exotic and delicious fruit of unbridled vice, is no
more today than the dismal habit of a police-controlled morality. Such are the surprises of literature.
The Dandies' Rebellion
Even after Sade's time, men of letters still continue to dominate the scene. Romanticism, Lucifer-like in
its rebellion, is really only useful for adventures of the imagination. Like Sade, romanticism is separated
from earlier forms of rebellion by its preference for evil and the individual. By putting emphasis on its
powers of defiance and refusal, rebellion, at this stage, forgets its positive content. Since God claims all
that is good in man, it is necessary to deride what is good and choose what is evil. Hatred of death and of
injustice will lead, therefore, if not to the exercise, at least to the vindication, of evil and murder.
The struggle between Satan and death in Paradise Lost, the favorite poem of the romantics, symbolizes
this drama; all the more profoundly in that death (with, of course, sin) is the child of Satan. In order to
combat evil, the rebel renounces good, because he considers himself innocent, and once again gives birth
to evil. The romantic
hero first of all brings about the profound and, so to speak, religious blending of good and evil.4 This type
of hero is "fatal" because fate confounds good and evil without man being able to prevent it. Fate does not
allow judgments of value. It replaces them by the statement that "It is so"— which excuses everything,
with the exception of the Creator, who alone is responsible for this scandalous state of affairs. The
romantic hero is also "fatal" because, to the extent that he increases in power and genius, the power of
evil increases in him. Every manifestation of power, every excess, is thus covered by this "It is so." That
the artist, particularly the poet, should be demoniac is a very ancient idea, which is formulated
provocatively in the work of the romantics. At this period there is even an imperialism of evil, whose aim
is to annex everything, even the most orthodox geniuses. "What made Milton write with constraint,"
Blake observes, "when he spoke of angels and of God, and with audacity when he spoke of demons and
of hell, is that he was a real poet and on the side of the demons, without knowing it." The poet, the genius,
man himself in his most exalted image, therefore cry out simultaneously with Satan: "So farewell hope,
and with hope farewell fear, farewell remorse. . . . Evil, be thou my good." It is the cry of outraged
innocence.
The romantic hero, therefore, considers himself compelled to do evil by his nostalgia for an unrealizable
good. Satan rises against his Creator because the latter employed force to subjugate him. "Whom reason
hath equal'd," says Milton's Satan, "force hath made supreme above his equals." Divine violence is thus
explicitly condemned. The rebel flees from this aggressive and unworthy God, "Farthest from him is
best," and reigns over all the forces hostile to the divine order. The Prince of Darkness has only chosen
this path because good is a notion defined and utilized by God for unjust purposes. Even innocence
irritates the Rebel in so far as it implies being duped. This "dark spirit of evil who is enraged by
innocence" creates a human injustice parallel to divine injustice. Since violence is at the root of all
creation, deliberate violence shall be its answer. The fact that there is an excess of despair
4 A dominant theme in William Blake, for example.
adds to the causes of despair and brings rebellion to that state of indignant frustration which follows the
long experience of injustice and where the distinction between good and evil finally disappears. Vigny's
Satan can
... no longer find in good or evil any pleasure nor of the sorrow that he causes take the measure.
This defines nihilism and authorizes murder.
Murder, in fact, is on the way to becoming acceptable. It is enough to compare the Lucifer of the painters
of the Middle Ages with the Satan of the romantics. An adolescent "young, sad, charming" (Vigny)
replaces the horned beast. "Beautiful, with a beauty unknown on this earth" (Lermontov), solitary and
powerful, unhappy and scornful, he is offhand even in oppression. But his excuse is sorrow. "Who here,"
says Milton's Satan, "will envy whom the highest place . . . condemns to greatest share of endless pain."
So many injustices suffered, a sorrow so unrelieved, justify every excess. The rebel therefore allows
himself certain advantages. Murder, of course, is not recommended for its own sake. But it is implicit in
the value— supreme for the romantic—attached to frenzy. Frenzy is the reverse of boredom: Lorenzaccio
dreams of Han of Iceland. Exquisite sensibilities evoke the elementary furies of the beast. The Byronic
hero, incapable of love, or capable only of an impossible love, suffers endlessly. He is solitary, languid,
his condition exhausts him. If he wants to feel alive, it must be in the terrible exaltation of a brief and
destructive action. To love someone whom one will never see again is to give a cry of exultation as one
perishes in the flames of passion. One lives only in and for the moment, in order to achieve "the brief and
vivid union of a tempestuous heart united to the tempest" (lermontov). The threat of mortality which
hangs over us makes everything abortive. Only the cry of anguish can bring us to life; exaltation takes the
place of truth. To this extent the apocalypse becomes an absolute value in which everything is
confounded—love and death, conscience and culpability. In a chaotic universe no other life exists but that
of the abyss where, according to Alfred Le Poittevin, human beings come "trembling with rage and
exulting in
their crimes" to curse the Creator. The intoxication of frenzy and, ultimately, some suitable crime reveal
in a moment the whole meaning of a life. Without exactly advocating crime, the romantics insist on
paying homage to a basic system of privileges which they illustrate with the conventional images of the
outlaw, the criminal with the heart of gold, and the kind brigand. Their works are bathed in blood and
shrouded in mystery. The soul is delivered, at a minimum expenditure, of its most hideous desires—
desires that a later generation will assuage in extermination camps. Of course these works are also a
challenge to the society of the times. But romanticism, at the source of its inspiration, is chiefly concerned
with defying moral and divine law. That is why its most original creation is not, primarily, the
revolutionary, but, logically enough, the dandy.
Logically, because this obstinate persistence in Satanism can only be justified by the endless affirmation
of injustice and, to a certain extent, by its consolidation. Pain, at this stage, is acceptable only on
condition that it is incurable. The rebel chooses the metaphysic of inevitable evil, which is expressed in
the literature of damnation from which we have not yet escaped. "I was conscious of my power and I was
conscious of my chains" (Petrus Borel). But these chains are valuable objects. Without them it would be
necessary to prove, or to exercise, this power which, after all, one is not very sure of having. It is only too
easy to end up by becoming a government employee in Algiers, and Prometheus, like the abovementioned
Borel, will devote the rest of his days to closing the cabarets and reforming morals in the
colonies. All the same, every poet to be received into the fold must be damned.5 Charles Lassailly, the
same who planned a philosophic novel, Robespierre and Jesus Christ, never went to bed without uttering
several fervent blasphemies to give himself courage. Rebellion puts on mourning and exhibits itself for
public admiration. Much more than the cult of the individual, romanticism inaugurates the cult of
5 French literature still feels the effects of this. "Poets are no longer damned," says Malraux. There are
fewer. But the others all suffer from bad consciences.
the "character." It is at this point that it is logical. No longer hoping for the rule or the unity of God,
determined to take up arms against an antagonistic destiny, anxious to preserve everything of which the
living are still capable in a world dedicated to death, romantic rebellion looked for a solution in the
attitude that it itself assumed. The attitude assembled, in aesthetic unity, all mankind who were in the
hands of fate and about to be destroyed by divine violence. The human being who is condemned to death
is, at least, magnificent before he disappears, and his magnificence is his justification. It is an established
fact, the only one that can be thrown in the petrified face of the God of hate. The impassive rebel does not
flinch before the eyes of God. "Nothing," says Milton, "will change this determined mind, this high
disdain born of an offended conscience." Everything is drawn or rushes toward the void, but even though
man is humiliated, he is obstinate and at least preserves his pride. A baroque romantic, discovered by
Raymond Queneau, claims that the aim of all intellectual life is to become God. This romantic is really a
little ahead of his time. The aim, at that time, was only to equal God and remain on His level. He is not
destroyed, but by incessant effort He is refused any act of submission. Dandyism is a degraded form of
asceticism.
The dandy creates his own unity by aesthetic means. But it is an aesthetic of singularity and of negation.
"To live and die before a mirror": that, according to Baudelaire, was the dandy's slogan. It is indeed a
coherent slogan. The dandy is, by occupation, always in opposition. He can only exist by defiance. Up to
now man derived his coherence from his Creator. But from the moment that he consecrates his rupture
with Him, he finds himself delivered over to the fleeting moment, to the passing days, and to wasted
sensibility. Therefore he must take himself in hand. The dandy rallies his forces and creates a unity for
himself by the very violence of his refusal. Profligate, like all people without a rule of life, he is coherent
as an actor. But an actor implies a public; the dandy can only play a part by setting himself up in
opposition. He can only be sure of his own existence by finding it in the expression of others' faces. Other
people are his mirror. A mirror that
quickly becomes clouded, it is true, since human capacity for attention is limited. It must be ceaselessly
stimulated, spurred on by provocation. The dandy, therefore, is always compelled to astonish. Singularity
is his vocation, excess his way to perfection. Perpetually incomplete, always on the fringe of things, he
compels others to create him, while denying their values. He plays at life because he is unable to live it.
He plays at it until he dies, except for the moments when he is alone and without a mirror. For the dandy,
to be alone is not to exist. The romantics talked so grandly about solitude only because it was their real
horror, the one thing they could not bear. Their rebellion thrusts its roots deep, but from the Abbe
Prevost's Cleveland up to the time of the Dadaists—including the frenetics of 1830 and Baudelaire and
the decadents of 1880—more than a century of rebellion was completely glutted by the audacities of
"eccentricity." If they were all able to talk of unhappiness, it is because they despaired of ever being able
to conquer it, except in futile parodies, and because they instinctively felt that it remained their sole
excuse and their real claim to nobility.
That is why the heritage of romanticism was not claimed by Victor Hugo, the epitome of France, but by
Baudelaire and Lacenaire, the poets of crime. "Everything in this world exudes crime," says Baudelaire,
"the newspaper, the walls, and the face of man." Nevertheless crime, which is the law of nature,
singularly fails to appear distinguished. Lacenaire, the first of the gentleman criminals, exploits it
effectively; Baudelaire displays less tenacity, but is a genius. He creates the garden of evil where crime
figures only as one of the rarer species. Terror itself becomes an exquisite sensation and a collector's item.
"Not only would I be happy to be a victim, but I would not even hate being an executioner in order to feel
the revolution from both sides." Even Baudelaire's conformity has the odor of crime. If he chose Maistre
as his master, it is to the extent that this conservative goes to extremes and centers his doctrine on death
and on the executioner. "The real saint," Baudelaire pretends to think, "is he who flogs and kills people
for their own good." His argument will be heard. A race of real saints is beginning to spread over the
earth for the purpose of confirming these curious conelusions
about rebellion. But Baudelaire, despite his satanic arsenal, his taste for Sade, his blasphemies, remains too
much of a theologian to be a proper rebel. His real drama, which made him the greatest poet of his time, was
something else. Baudelaire can be mentioned here only to the extent that he was the most profound theoretician of
dandyism and gave definite form to one of the conclusions of romantic revolt.
Romanticism demonstrates, in fact, that rebellion is part and parcel of dandyism: one of its objectives is
appearances. In its conventional forms, dandyism admits a nostalgia for ethics. It is only honor degraded as a point
of honor. But at the same time it inaugurates an aesthetic which is still valid in our world, an aesthetic of solitary
creators, who are obstinate rivals of a God they condemn. From romanticism onward, the artist's task will not only
be to create a world, or to exalt beauty for its own sake, but also to define an attitude. Thus the artist becomes a
model and offers himself as an example: art is his ethic. With him begins the age of the directors of conscience.
When the dandies fail to commit suicide or do not go mad, they make a career and pursue prosperity. Even when,
like Vigny, they exclaim that they are going to retire into silence, their silence is piercing.
But at the very heart of romanticism, the sterility of this attitude becomes apparent to a few rebels who provide a
transitional type between the eccentrics (or the Incredible) and our revolutionary adventurers. Between the times of
the eighteenth-century eccentric and the "conquerors" of the twentieth century, Byron and Shelley are already
fighting, though only ostensibly, for freedom. They also expose themselves, but in another way. Rebellion gradually
leaves the world of appearances for the world of action, where it will completely commit itself. The French students
in 1830 and the Russian Decembrists will then appear as the purest incarnations of a rebellion which is at first
solitary and which then tries, through sacrifice, to find the path to solidarity. But, inversely, the taste for the
apocalypse and a life of frenzy will reappear among present-day revolutionaries. The endless series of treason trials,
the terrible game played out between the judge and the accused, the elaborate staging of cross-examinations,
sometimes lead us to believe that there is a tragic resemblance to the old subterfuge by which the
romantic rebel, in refusing to be what he was, provisionally condemned himself to a make-believe world
in the desperate hope of achieving a more profound existence.

The Rejection of Salvation
If the romantic rebel extols evil and the individual, this does not mean that he sides with mankind, but
merely with himself. Dandyism, of whatever kind, is always dandyism in relation to God. The individual,
in so far as he is a created being, can oppose himself only to the Creator. He has need of God, with whom
he carries on a kind of a gloomy flirtation. Armand Hoog1 rightly says that, despite its Nietzschean
atmosphere, God is not yet dead even in romantic literature. Damnation, so clamorously demanded, is
only a clever trick played on God. But with Dostoievsky the description of rebellion goes a step farther.
Ivan Karamazov sides with mankind and stresses human innocence. He affirms that the death sentence
which hangs over them is unjust. Far from making a plea for evil, his first impulse, at least, is to plead for
justice, which he ranks above the divinity. Thus he does not absolutely deny the existence of God. He
refutes Him in the name of a moral value. The romantic rebel's ambition was to talk to God as one equal
to another. Evil was the answer to evil, pride the answer to cruelty. Vigny's ideal, for example, is to
answer silence with silence. Obviously, the point is to raise oneself to the level of God, which already is
blasphemy. But there is no thought of disputing the power or position of the deity. The blasphemy is
reverent, since every blasphemy is, ultimately, a participation in holiness.
With Ivan, however, the tone changes. God, in His turn, is put on trial. If evil is essential to divine
creation, then creation is unacceptable. Ivan will no longer have recourse to this mysterious God, but to a
higher principle
1 Les Petits Romantiques.
—namely, justice. He launches the essential undertaking of rebellion, which is that of replacing the reign
of grace by the reign of justice. He simultaneously begins the attack on Christianity. The romantic rebels
broke with God Himself, on the principle of hatred. Ivan explicitly rejects the mystery and, consequently,
God, on the principle of love. Only love can make us consent to the injustice done to Martha, to the
exploitation of workers, and, finally, to the death of innocent children.
"If the suffering of children," says Ivan, "serves to complete the sum of suffering necessary for the
acquisition of truth, I affirm from now onward that truth is not worth such a price." Ivan rejects the basic
interdependence, introduced by Christianity, between suffering and truth. Ivan's most profound utterance,
the one which opens the deepest chasms beneath the rebel's feet, is his even if: "I would persist in my
indignation even if I were wrong." Which means that even if God existed, even if the mystery cloaked a
truth, even if the starets Zosime were right, Ivan would not admit that truth should be paid for by evil,
suffering, and the death of innocents. Ivan incarnates the refusal of salvation. Faith leads to immortal life.
But faith presumes the acceptance of the mystery and of evil, and resignation to injustice. The man who is
prevented by the suffering of children from accepting faith will certainly not accept eternal life. Under
these conditions, even if eternal life existed, Ivan would refuse it. He rejects this bargain. He would
accept grace only unconditionally, and that is why he makes his own conditions. Rebellion wants all or
nothing. "All the knowledge in the world is not worth a child's tears." Ivan does not say that there is no
truth. He says that if truth does exist, it can only be unacceptable. Why? Because it is unjust. The struggle
between truth and justice is begun here for the first time; and it will never end. Ivan, by nature a solitary
and therefore a moralist, will satisfy himself with a kind of metaphysical Don Quixotism. But a few
decades more and an immense political conspiracy will attempt to prove that justice is truth.
In addition, Ivan is the incarnation of the refusal to be the only one saved. He throws in his lot with the
damned and, for their sake, rejects eternity. If he had
faith, he could, in fact, be saved, but others would be damned and suffering would continue. There is no
possible salvation for the man who feels real compassion. Ivan will continue to put God in the wrong by
doubly rejecting faith as he would reject injustice and privilege. One step more and from All or Nothing
we arrive at Everyone or No One.
This extreme determination, and the attitude that it implies, would have sufficed for the romantics. But
Ivan,2 even though he also gives way to dandyism, really lives his problems, torn between the negative
and the affirmative. From this moment onward, he accepts the consequences. If he rejects immortality,
what remains for him? Life in its most elementary form. When the meaning of life has been suppressed,
there still remains life. "I live," says Ivan, "in spite of logic." And again: "If I no longer had any faith in
life, if I doubted a woman I loved, or the universal order of things, if I were persuaded, on the contrary,
that everything was only an infernal and accursed chaos—even then I would want to live." Ivan will live,
then, and will love as well "without knowing why." But to live is also to act. To act in the name of what?
If there is no immortality, then there is neither reward nor punishment. "I believe that there is no virtue
without immortality." And also: "I only know that suffering exists, that no one is guilty, that everything is
connected, that everything passes away and equals out." But if there is no virtue, there is no law:
"Everything is permitted."
With this "everything is permitted" the history of contemporary nihilism really begins. The romantic
rebellion did not go so far. It limited itself to saying, in short, that everything was not permitted, but that,
through insolence, it allowed itself to do what was forbidden. With the Karamazovs, on the contrary, the
logic of indignation turned rebellion against itself and confronted it with a desperate contradiction. The
essential difference is that the romantics allowed themselves moments of complacence, while Ivan
compelled himself to do evil so as to be coherent. He would not allow himself to be good. Nihilism is not
only despair and negation but, above all, the de-
2 It is worth noting that Ivan is, in a certain way, Dostoievsky, who is more at ease in this role than in the
role of Aliosha.
sire to despair and to negate. The same man who so violently took the part of innocence, who trembled at
the suffering of a child, who wanted to see "with his own eyes" the lamb lie down with the lion, the
victim embrace his murderer, from the moment that he rejects divine coherence and tries to discover his
own rule of life, recognizes the legitimacy of murder. Ivan rebels against a murderous God; but from the
moment that he begins to rationalize his rebellion, he deduces the law of murder. If all is permitted, he
can kill his father or at least allow him to be killed. Long reflection on the condition of mankind as people
sentenced to death only leads to the justification of crime. Ivan simultaneously hates the death penalty
(describing an execution, he says furiously: "His head fell, in the name of divine grace") and condones
crime, in principle. Every indulgence is allowed the murderer, none is allowed the executioner. This
contradiction, which Sade swallowed with ease, chokes Ivan Karamazov.
He pretends to reason, in fact, as though immortality did not exist, while he only goes so far as to say that
he would refuse it even if it did exist. In order to protest against evil and death, he deliberately chooses to
say that virtue exists no more than does immortality and to allow his father to be killed. He consciously
accepts his dilemma; to be virtuous and illogical, or logical and criminal. His prototype, the devil, is right
when he whispers: "You are going to commit a virtuous act and yet you do not believe in virtue; that is
what angers and torments you." The question that Ivan finally poses, the question that constitutes the real
progress achieved by Dostoievsky in the history of rebellion, is the only one in which we are interested
here: can one live and stand one's ground in a state of rebellion?
Ivan allows us to guess his answer: one can live in a state of rebellion only by pursuing it to the bitter end.
What is the bitter end of metaphysical rebellion? Metaphysical revolution. The master of the world, after
his legitimacy has been contested, must be overthrown. Man must occupy his place. "As God and
immortality do not exist, the new man is permitted to become God." But what does becoming God mean?
It means, in fact, recognizing that everything is permitted and refusing to recognize
any other law but one's own. Without it being necessary to develop the intervening arguments, we can see
that to become God is to accept crime (a favorite idea of Dostoievsky's intellectuals). Ivan's personal problem is,
then, to know if he will be faithful to his logic and if, on the grounds of an indignant protest against innocent
suffering, he will accept the murder of his father with the indifference of a man-god. We know his solution: Ivan
allows his father to be killed. Too profound to be satisfied with appearances, too sensitive to perform the deed
himself, he is content to allow it to be done. But he goes mad. The man who could not understand how one could
love one's neighbor cannot understand either how one can kill him. Caught between unjustifiable virtue and
unacceptable crime, consumed with pity and incapable of love, a recluse deprived of the benefits of cynicism, this
man of supreme intelligence is killed by contradiction. "My mind is of this world," he said; "what good is it to try to
understand what is not of this world?" But he lived only for what is not of this world, and his proud search for the
absolute is precisely what removed him from the world of which he loved no part.
The fact that Ivan was defeated does not obviate the fact that once the problem is posed, the consequence must
follow: rebellion is henceforth on the march toward action. This has already been demonstrated by Dostoievsky,
with prophetic intensity, in his legend of the Grand Inquisitor. Ivan, finally, does not distinguish the creator from his
creation. "It is not God whom I reject," he says, "it is creation." In other words, it is God the father, indistinguishable
from what He has created.3 His plot to usurp the throne, therefore, remains completely moral. He does not want to
reform anything in creation. But creation being what it is, he claims the right to free himself morally and to free all
the rest of mankind with him. On the other hand, from the moment when the spirit of rebellion, having accepted the
concept of "everything is permitted" and
3 Ivan allows his father to be killed and thus chooses a direct attack against nature and procreation. Moreover, this
particular father is infamous. The repugnant figure of old Karamazov is continually coming between Ivan and the
God of Aliosha.
"everyone or no one," aims at reconstructing creation in order to assert the sovereignty and divinity of
man, and from the moment when metaphysical rebellion extends itself from ethics to politics, a new
undertaking, of incalculable import, begins, which also springs, we must note, from the same nihilism.
Dostoievsky, the prophet of the new religion, had foreseen and announced it: "If Aliosha had come to the
conclusion that neither God nor immortality existed, he would immediately have become an atheist and a
socialist. For socialism is not only a question of the working classes; it is above all, in its contemporary
incarnation, a question of atheism, a question of the tower of Babel, which is constructed without God's
help, not to reach to the heavens, but to bring the heavens down to earth." 4
After that, Aliosha can, in fact, treat Ivan with compassion as a "real simpleton." The latter only made aa
attempt at self-control and failed. Others will appear, with more serious intentions, who, on the basis of
the same despairing nihilism, will insist on ruling the world. These are the Grand Inquisitors who
imprison Christ and come to tell Him that His method is not correct, that universal happiness cannot be
achieved by the immediate freedom of choosing between good and evil, but by the domination and
unification of the world. The first step is to conquer and rule. The kingdom of heaven will, in fact, appear
on earth, but it will be ruled over by men—a mere handful to begin with, who will be the Cassars,
because they were the first to understand—and later, with time, by all men. The unity of all creation will
be achieved by every possible means, since everything is permitted. The Grand Inquisitor is old and tired,
for the knowledge he possesses is-bitter. He knows that men are lazy rather than cowardly and that they
prefer peace and death to the liberty of discerning between good and evil. He has pity, a cold pity, for the
silent prisoner whom history endlessly deceives. He urges him to speak, to recognize his misdeeds, and,
in one sense, to approve the actions of the Inquisitors and of the Caesars. But the prisoner does not speak.
The enterprise will continue, therefore, without him; he will be killed.
4 These questions (God and immortality) are the same questions that socialism poses, but seen from
another angle.
Legitimacy will come at the end of time, when the kingdom of men is assured. "The affair has only just
begun, it is far from being terminated, and the world has many other things to suffer, but we shall achieve
our aim, we shall be Caesar, and then we shall begin to think about universal happiness."
By then the prisoner has been executed; the Grand Inquisitors reign alone, listening to "the profound
spirit, the spirit of destruction and death." The Grand Inquisitors proudly refuse freedom and the bread of
heaven and offer the bread of this earth without freedom. "Come down from the cross and we will believe
in you," their police agents are already crying on Golgotha. But He did not come down and, even, at the
most tortured moment of His agony, He protested to God at having been forsaken. There are, thus, no
longer any proofs, but faith and the mystery that the rebels reject and at which the Grand Inquisitors scoff.
Everything is permitted and centuries of crime are prepared in that cataclysmic moment. From Paul to
Stalin, the popes who have chosen Caesar have prepared the way for Caesars who quickly learn to despise
popes. The unity of the world, which was not achieved with God, will henceforth be attempted in defiance
of God.
But we have not yet reached that point. For the moment, Ivan offers us only the tortured face of the rebel
plunged in the abyss, incapable of action, torn between the idea of his own innocence and the desire to
kill. He hates the death penalty because it is the image of the human condition, and, at the same time, he
is drawn to crime. Because he has taken the side of mankind, solitude is his lot. With him the rebellion of
reason culminates in madness.

Absolute Affirmation
From the moment that man submits God to moral judgment, he kills Him in his own heart. And then what
is the basis of morality? God is denied in the name of justice, but can the idea of justice be understood
without the idea of God? At this point are we not in the realm of absurdity? Absurdity is the concept that
Nietzsche meets face to face. In order to be able to dismiss it, he pushes it to extremes: morality is the
ultimate aspect of God, which must be destroyed before reconstruction can begin. Then God no longer
exists and is no longer responsible for our existence; man must resolve to act, in order to exist.
The Unique
Even before Nietzsche, Stirner wanted to eradicate the very idea of God from man's mind, after he had
destroyed God Himself. But, unlike Nietzsche, his nihilism was gratified. Stirner laughs in his blind alley;
Nietzsche beats his head against the wall. In 1845, the year when Der Einziger und sein Eigentum (The
Unique and Its Characteristics) appeared, Stirner begins to define his position. Stirner, who frequented
the "Society of Free Men" with the young Hegelians of the left (of whom Marx was one), had an account
to settle not only with God, but also with Feuerbach's Man, Hegel's Spirit, and its historical incarnation,
the State. All these idols, to his mind, were offsprings of the same "mongolism"—the belief in the eternity
of ideas. Thus he was able to write: "I have constructed my case on nothing." Sin is, of course,
a "mongol scourge," but it is also the law of which we are prisoners. God is the enemy; Stirner goes as far
as he can in blasphemy ("digest the Host and you are rid of it"). But God is only one of the aberrations of
the I, or more precisely of what I am. Socrates, Jesus, Descartes, Hegel, all the prophets and philosophers,
have done nothing but invent new methods of deranging what I am, the I that Stirner is so intent on
distinguishing from the absolute I of Fichte by reducing it to its most specific and transitory aspect. "It has
no name," it is the Unique.
For Stirner the history of the universe up to the time of Jesus is nothing but a sustained effort to idealize
reality. This effort is incarnated in the ideas and rites of purification which the ancients employed. From
the time of Jesus, the goal is reached, and another effort is embarked upon which consists, on the
contrary, in attempting to realize the ideal. The passion of the incarnation takes the place of purification
and devastates the world, to a greater and greater degree, as socialism, the heir of Christ, extends its sway.
But the history of the universe is nothing but a continual offense to the unique principle that "I am"—a
living, concrete principle, a triumphant principle that the world has always wanted to subject to the yoke
of successive abstractions—God, the State, society, humanity. For Stirner, philanthropy is a hoax.
Atheistic philosophies, which culminate in the cult of the State and of Man, are only "theological
insurrections." "Our atheists," says Stirner, "are really pious folk." There is only one religion that exists
throughout all history, the belief in eternity. This belief is a deception. The only truth is the Unique, the
enemy of eternity and of everything, in fact, which does not further its desire for domination.
With Stirner, the concept of negation which inspires his rebellion irresistibly submerges every aspect of
affirmation. It also sweeps away the substitutes for divinity with which the moral conscience is
encumbered. "External eternity is swept away," he says, "but internal eternity has become a new heaven."
Even revolution, revolution in particular, is repugnant to this rebel. To be a revolutionary, one must
continue to believe in something, even where there is nothing in which to believe. "The [French]
Revolution ended in reaction and that demonstrates what the
Revolution was in reality." To dedicate oneself to humanity is no more worth while than serving God.
Moreover, fraternity is only "Communism in its Sunday best." During the week, the members of the
fraternity become slaves. Therefore there is only one form of freedom for Stirner, "my power," and only
one truth, "the magnificent egotism of the stars."
In this desert everything begins to flower again. "The terrifying significance of an unpremeditated cry of
joy cannot be understood while the long night of faith and reason endures." This night is drawing to a
close, and a dawn will break which is not the dawn of revolution but of insurrection. Insurrection is, in
itself, an asceticism which rejects all forms of consolation. The insurgent will not be in agreement with
other men except in so far as, and as long as, their egotism coincides with his. His real life is led in
solitude where he will assuage, without restraint, his appetite for existing, which is his only reason for
existence.
In this respect individualism reaches a climax. It is the negation of everything that denies the individual
and the glorification of everything that exalts and ministers to the individual. What, according to Stirner,
is good? "Everything of which I can make use." What am I, legitimately, authorized to do? "Everything of
which I am capable." Once again, rebellion leads to the justification of crime. Stirner not only has
attempted to justify crime (in this respect the terrorist forms of anarchy are directly descended from him),
but is visibly intoxicated by the perspectives that he thus reveals. "To break with what is sacred, or rather
to destroy the sacred, could become universal. It is not a new revolution that is approaching—but is not a
powerful, proud, disrespectful, shameless, conscienceless crime swelling like a thundercloud on the
horizon, and can you not see that the sky, heavy with foreboding, is growing dark and silent?" Here we
can feel the somber joy of those who create an apocalypse in a garret. This bitter and imperious logic can
no longer be held in check, except by an I which is determined to defeat every form of abstraction and
which has itself become abstract and nameless through being isolated and cut off from its roots. There are
no more crimes and no more imperfections, and therefore no more sinners. We are all perfect.
Since every I is, in itself, fundamentally criminal in its attitude toward the State and the people, we must
recognize that to live is to transgress. Unless we accept death, we must be willing to kill in order to be
unique. "You are not as noble as a criminal, you who do not desecrate anything." Moreover Stirner, still
without the courage of his convictions, specifies: "Kill them, do not martyr them."
But to decree that murder is legitimate is to decree mobilization and war for all the Unique. Thus murder
will coincide with a kind of collective suicide. Stirner, who either does not admit or does not see this,
nevertheless does not recoil at the idea of any form of destruction. The spirit of rebellion finally discovers
one of its bitterest satisfactions in chaos. "You [the German nation] will be struck down. Soon your sister
nations will follow you; when all of them have gone your way, humanity will be buried, and on its tomb I,
sole master of myself at last, I, heir to all the human race, will shout with laughter." And so, among the
ruins of the world, the desolate laughter of the individual-king illustrates the last victory of the spirit of
rebellion. But at this extremity nothing else is possible but death or resurrection. Stirner, and with him all
the nihilist rebels, rush to the utmost limits, drunk with destruction. After which, when the desert has been
disclosed, the next step is to learn how to live there. Nietzsche's exhaustive search then begins.
Nietzsche and Nihilism
"We deny God, we deny the responsibility of God, it is only thus that we will deliver the world." With
Nietzsche, nihilism seems to become prophetic. But we can draw no conclusions from Nietzsche except
the base and mediocre cruelty that he hated with all his strength, unless we give first place in his work—
well ahead of the prophet—to the diagnostician. The provisional, methodical—in a word, strategic—
character of his thought cannot be doubted for a moment. With him nihilism becomes conscious for the
first time. Surgeons have this in common with prophets: they think and operate in terms of the future.
Nietzsche never thought except in terms of an
apocalypse to come, not in order to extol it, for he guessed the sordid and calculating aspect that this
apocalypse would finally assume, but in order to avoid it and to transform it into a renaissance. He
recognized nihilism for what it was and examined it like a clinical fact.
He said of himself that he was the first complete nihilist of Europe. Not by choice, but by condition, and
because he was too great to refuse the heritage of his time. He diagnosed in himself, and in others, the
inability to believe and the disappearance of the primitive foundation of all faith—namely, the belief in
life. The "can one live as a rebel?" became with him "can one live believing in nothing?" His reply is
affirmative. Yes, if one creates a system out of absence of faith, if one accepts the final consequences of
nihilism, and if, on emerging into the desert and putting one's confidence in what is going to come, one
feels, with the same primitive instinct, both pain and joy.
Instead of methodical doubt, he practiced methodical negation, the determined destruction of everything
that still hides nihilism from itself, of the idols that camouflage God's death. "To raise a new sanctuary, a
sanctuary must be destroyed, that is the law." According to Nietzsche, he who wants to be a creator of
good or of evil must first of all destroy all values. "Thus the supreme evil becomes part of the supreme
good, but the supreme good is creative." He wrote, in his own manner, the Discours de la Methode of his
period, without the freedom and exactitude of the seventeenth-century French he admired so much, but
with the mad lucidity that characterizes the twentieth century, which, according to him, is the century of
genius. We must return to the examination of this system of rebellion.1
Nietzsche's first step is to accept what he knows. Atheism for him goes without saying and is
"constructive and radical." Nietzsche's supreme vocation, so he says, is to provoke a kind of crisis and a
final decision about the problem of atheism. The world continues on its course at
1 We are obviously concerned here with Nietzsche's final philosophic position, between 1880 and his
collapse. This chapter can be considered as a commentary on Der Wille zur Macht. (The Will to Power).
random and there is nothing final about it. Thus God is useless, since He wants nothing in particular. If
He wanted something—and here we recognize the traditional formulation of the problem of evil—He
would have to assume the responsibility for "a sum total of pain and inconsistency which would debase
the entire value of being born." We know that Nietzsche was publicly envious of Stendahl's epigram:
"The only excuse for God is that he does not exist." Deprived of the divine will, the world is equally
deprived of unity and finality. That is why it is impossible to pass judgment on the world. Any attempt to
apply a standard of values to the world leads finally to a slander on life. Judgments are based on what is,
with reference to what should be—the kingdom of heaven, eternal concepts, or moral imperatives. But
what should be does not exist; and this world cannot be judged in the name of nothing. "The advantages
of our times: nothing is true, everything is permitted." These magnificent or ironic formulas which are
echoed by thousands of others, at least suffice to demonstrate that Nietzsche accepts the entire burden of
nihilism and rebellion. In his somewhat puerile reflections on "training and selection" he even formulated
the extreme logic of nihilistic reasoning: "Problem: by what means could we obtain a strict form of
complete and contagious nihilism which would teach and practice, with complete scientific awareness,
voluntary death?"
But Nietzsche enlists values in the cause of nihilism which, traditionally, have been considered as
restraints on nihilism—principally morality. Moral conduct, as explained by Socrates, or as recommended
by Christianity, is in itself a sign of decadence. It wants to substitute the mere shadow of a man for a man
of flesh and blood. It condemns the universe of passion and emotion in the name of an entirely imaginary
world of harmony. If nihilism is the inability to believe, then its most serious symptom is not found in
atheism, but in the inability to believe in what is, to see what is happening, and to live life as it is offered.
This infirmity is at the root of all idealism. Morality has no faith in the world. For Nietzsche, real morality
cannot be separated from lucidity. He is severe on the "calumniators of the world" because he discerns in
the calumny a shameful taste for evasion. Traditional morality, for him, is only a special type of
immorality. "It is virtue," he says, "which has need of justification." And again: "It is for moral reasons
that good, one day, will cease to be done."
Nietzsche's philosophy, undoubtedly, revolves around the problem of rebellion. More precisely, it begins
by being a rebellion. But we sense the change of position that Nietzsche makes. With him, rebellion
begins with "God is dead," which is assumed as an established fact; then it turns against everything that
aims at falsely replacing the vanished deity and reflects dishonor on a world which doubtless has no
direction but which remains nevertheless the only proving-ground of the gods. Contrary to the opinion of
certain of his Christian critics, Nietzsche did not form a project to kill God. He found Him dead in the
soul of his contemporaries. He was the first to understand the immense importance of the event and to
decide that this rebellion on the part of men could not lead to a renaissance unless it was controlled and
directed. Any-other attitude toward it, whether regret or complacency, must lead to the apocalypse. Thus
Nietzsche did not formulate a philosophy of rebellion, but constructed a philosophy on rebellion.
If he attacks Christianity in particular, it is only in so far as it represents morality. He always leaves intact
the person of Jesus on the one hand, and on the other the cynical aspects of the Church. We know that,
from the point of view of the connoisseur, he admired the Jesuits. "Basically," he writes, "only the God of
morality is rejected." Christ, for Nietzsche as for Tolstoy, is not a rebel. The essence of His doctrine is
summed up in total consent and in nonresistance to evil. Thou shalt not kill, even to prevent killing. The
world must be accepted as it is, nothing must be added to its unhappiness, but you must consent to suffer
personally from the evil it contains. The kingdom of heaven is within our immediate reach. It is only an
inner inclination which allows us to make our actions coincide with these principles and which can give
us immediate salvation. Not faith but deeds—that, according to Nietzsche, is Christ's message. From then
on, the history of Christianity is nothing but a long betrayal of
this message. The New Testament is already corrupted, and from the time of Paul to the Councils,
subservience to faith leads to the neglect of deeds.
What is the profoundly corrupt addition made by Christianity to the message of its Master? The idea of
judgment, completely foreign to the teachings of Christ, and the correlative notions of punishment and
reward. From that moment nature becomes history, and significant history expressed by the idea of
human totality is born. From the Annunciation until the Last Judgment, humanity has no other task but to
conform to the strictly moral ends of a narrative that has already been written. The only difference is that
the characters, in the epilogue, separate themselves into the good and the bad. While Christ's sole
judgment consists in saying that the sins of nature are unimportant, historical Christianity makes nature
the source of sin. "What does Christ deny? Everything that at present bears the name Christian."
Christianity believes that it is fighting against nihilism because it gives the world a sense of direction,
while it is really nihilist itself in so far as, by imposing an imaginary meaning on life, it prevents the
discovery of its real meaning: "Every Church is a stone rolled onto the tomb of the man-god; it tries to
prevent the resurrection, by force." Nietzsche's paradoxical but significant conclusion is that God has
been killed by Christianity, in that Christianity has secularized the sacred. Here we must understand
historical Christianity and "its profound and contemptible duplicity."
The same process of reasoning leads to Nietzsche's attitude toward socialism and all forms of
humanitarian-ism. Socialism is only a degenerate form of Christianity. In fact, it preserves a belief in the
finality of history which betrays life and nature, which substitutes ideal ends for real ends, and contributes
to enervating both the will and the imagination. Socialism is nihilistic, in the henceforth precise sense that
Nietzsche confers on the word. A nihilist is not one who believes in nothing, but one who does not
believe in what exists. In this sense, all forms of socialism are manifestations, degraded once again, of
Christian decadence. For Christianity, reward and punishment implied the existence of history. But, by
inescapable logic, all history
ends by implying punishment and reward; and, from this day on, collectivist Messianism is born.
Similarly, the equality of souls before God leads, now that God is dead, to equality pure and simple.
There again, Nietzsche wages war against socialist doctrines in so far as they are moral doctrines.
Nihilism, whether manifested in religion or in socialist preachings, is the logical conclusion of our socalled
superior values. The free mind will destroy these values and denounce the illusions on which they
are built, the bargaining that they imply, and the crime they commit in preventing the lucid intelligence
from accomplishing its mission: to transform passive nihilism into active nihilism.
In this world rid of God and of moral idols, man is now alone and without a master. No one has been less
inclined than Nietzsche (and in this way he distinguishes himself from the romantics) to let it be believed
that such freedom would be easy. This complete liberation put him among the ranks of those of whom he
himself said that they suffered a new form of anguish and a new form of happiness. But, at the beginning,
it is only anguish that makes him cry out: "Alas, grant me madness. . . . Unless I am above the law, I am
the most outcast of all outcasts." He who cannot maintain his position above the law must in fact find
another law or take refuge in madness. From the moment that man believes neither in God nor in
immortal life, he becomes "responsible for everything alive, for everything that, born of suffering, is
condemned to suffer from life." It is he, and he alone, who must discover law and order. Then the time of
exile begins, the endless search for justification, the aimless nostalgia, "the most painful, the most
heartbreaking question, that of the heart which asks itself: where can I feel at home?"
Because his mind was free, Nietzsche knew that freedom of the mind is not a comfort, but an achievement
to which one aspires and at long last obtains after an exhausting struggle. He knew that in wanting to
consider oneself above the law, there is a great risk of finding oneself beneath the law. That is why he
understood that only the mind found its real emancipation in the acceptance
of new obligations. The essence of his discovery consists in saying that if the eternal law is not freedom,
the absence of law is still less so. If nothing is true, if the world is without order, then nothing is
forbidden; to prohibit an action, there must, in fact, be a standard of values and an aim. But, at the same
time, nothing is authorized; there must also be values and aims in order to choose another course of
action. Absolute domination by the law does not represent liberty, but no more does absolute anarchy.
The sum total of every possibility does not amount to liberty, but to attempt the impossible amounts to
slavery. Chaos is also a form of servitude. Freedom exists only in a world where what is possible is
defined at the same time as what is not possible. Without law there is no freedom. If fate is not guided by
superior values, if chance is king, then there is nothing but the step in the dark and the appalling freedom
of the blind. On the point of achieving the most complete liberation, Nietzsche therefore chooses the most
complete subordination. "If we do not make of God's death a great renunciation and a perpetual victory
over ourselves, we shall have to pay for that omission." In other words, with Nietzsche, rebellion ends in
asceticism. A profounder logic replaces the "if nothing is true, everything is permitted" of Karamazov by
"if nothing is true, nothing is permitted." To deny that one single thing is forbidden in this world amounts
to renouncing everything that is permitted. At the point where it is no longer possible to say what is black
and what is white, the light is extinguished and freedom becomes a voluntary prison.
It can be said that Nietzsche, with a kind of frightful joy, rushes toward the impasse into which he
methodically drives his nihilism. His avowed aim is to render the situation untenable to his
contemporaries. His only hope seems to be to arrive at the extremity of contradiction. Then if man does
not wish to perish in the coils that strangle him, he will have to cut them at a single blow and create his
own values. The death of God accomplishes nothing and can only be endured in terms of preparing a
resurrection. "If we fail to find grandeur in God," says Nietzsche, "we find it nowhere; it must be denied
or created." To deny it was the task of the world around him, which he saw rushing toward suicide. To
create was the superhuman task
for which he was willing to die. He knew in fact that creation is only possible in the extremity of solitude
and that man would only commit himself to this staggering task if, in the most extreme distress of mind,
he was compelled to undertake it or perish. Nietzsche cries out to man that the only truth is the world, to
which he must be faithful and in which he must live and find his salvation. But at the same time he
teaches him that to live in a lawless world is impossible because to live explicitly implies a law. How can
one live freely and without law? To this enigma man must find an answer, on pain of death.
Nietzsche at least does not flinch. He answers and his answer is bold: Damocles never danced better than
beneath the sword. One must accept the unacceptable and hold to the untenable. From the moment that it
is admitted that the world pursues no end, Nietzsche proposes to concede its innocence, to affirm that it
accepts no judgment since it cannot be judged on any intention, and consequently to replace all judgments
based on values by absolute assent, and by a complete and exalted allegiance to this world. Thus from
absolute despair will spring infinite joy, from blind servitude, unbounded freedom. To be free is,
precisely, to abolish ends. The innocence of the ceaseless change of things, as soon as one consents to it,
represents the maximum liberty. The free mind willingly accepts what is necessary. Nietzsche's most
profound concept is that the necessity of phenomena, if it is absolute, without rifts, does not imply any
kind of restraint. Total acceptance of total necessity is his paradoxical definition of freedom. The question
"free of what?" is thus replaced by "free for what?" Liberty coincides with heroism. It is the asceticism of
the great man, "the bow bent to the breaking-point."
This magnificent consent, born of abundance and fullness of spirit, is the unreserved affirmation of
human imperfection and suffering, of evil and murder, of all that is problematic and strange in our
existence. It is born of an arrested wish to be what one is in a world that is what it is. "To consider oneself
a fatality, not to wish to be other than one is . . ." Nietzschean asceticism, which begins with the
recognition of fatality, ends in a deification of fate. The more implacable destiny is, the more it
becomes worthy of adoration. A moral God, pity, and love are enemies of fate to the extent that they try
to counterbalance it. Nietzsche wants no redemption. The joy of self-realization is the joy of annihilation.
But only the individual is annihilated. The movement of rebellion, by which man demanded his own
existence, disappears in the individual's absolute submission to the inevitable. Amor fati replaces what
was an odium fati. "Every individual collaborates with the entire cosmos, whether we know it or not,
whether we want it or not." The individual is lost in the destiny of the species and the eternal movement
of the spheres. "Everything that has existed is eternal, the sea throws it back on the shore."
Nietzsche then turns to the origins of thought—to the pre-Socratics. These philosophers suppressed
ultimate
causes so as to leave intact the eternal values of the principles they upheld. Only power without purpose,
only Heraclitus' "chance," is eternal. Nietzsche's whole effort is directed toward demonstrating the
existence of the law that governs the eternal flux and of the element of chance in the inevitable: "A child
is innocence and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a gamble, a wheel that spins automatically,
a first step, the divine gift of being able to consent." The world is divine because the world is
inconsequential. That is why art alone, by being equally inconsequential, is capable of grasping it. It is
impossible to give a clear account of the world, but art can teach us to reproduce it— just as the world
reproduces itself in the course of its eternal gyrations. The primordial sea indefatigably repeats the same
words and casts up the same astonished beings on the same seashore. But at least he who consents to his
own return and to the return of all things, who becomes an echo and an exalted echo, participates in the
divinity of the world.
By this subterfuge, the divinity of man is finally introduced. The rebel, who at first denies God, finally
aspires to replace Him. But Nietzsche's message is that the rebel can only become God by renouncing
every form of rebellion, even the type of rebellion that produces gods to chastise humanity. "If there is a
God, how can one tolerate not being God oneself?" There is, in fact, a god— namely, the world. To
participate in its divinity, all that
is necessary is to consent. "No longer to pray, but to give one's blessing," and the earth will abound in
men-gods. To say yes to the world, to reproduce it, is simultaneously to re-create the world and oneself, to
become the great artist, the creator. Nietzsche's message is summed up in the word creation, with the
ambiguous meaning it has assumed. Nietzsche's sole admiration was for the egotism and severity proper
to all creators. The transmutation of values consists only in replacing critical values by creative values; by
respect and admiration for what exists. Divinity without immortality defines the extent of the creator's
freedom. Dionysos, the earth-god, shrieks eternally as he is torn limb from limb. But at the same time he
represents the agonized beauty that coincides with suffering. Nietzsche thought that to accept this earth
and Dionysos was to accept his own sufferings. And to accept everything, both suffering and the supreme
contradiction simultaneously, was to be king of all creation. Nietzsche agreed to pay the price for his
kingdom. Only the "sad and suffering" world is true—the world is the only divinity. Like Empedocles,
who threw himself into the crater of Mount Etna to find truth in the only place where it exists— namely,
in the bowels of the earth—Nietzsche proposed that man should allow himself to be engulfed in the
cosmos in order to rediscover his eternal divinity and to become Dionysos. The Will to Power ends, like
Pascal's Pensees, of which it so often reminds us, with a wager. Man does not yet obtain assurance but
only the wish for assurance, which is not at all the same thing. Nietzsche, too, hesitated on this brink:
"That is what is unforgivable in you. You have the authority and you refuse to sign." Yet finally he had to
sign. But the name of Dionysos immortalized only the notes to Ariadne, which he wrote when he was
mad.
In a certain sense, rebellion, with Nietzsche, ends again in the exaltation of evil. The difference is that evil
is no longer a revenge. It is accepted as one of the possible aspects of good and, with rather more
conviction, as part of destiny. Thus he considers it as something to be avoided and also as a sort of
remedy. In Nietzsche's mind, the only problem was to see that the human spirit bowed
proudly to the inevitable. We know, however, his posterity and what kind of politics were to claim the
authorization of the man who claimed to be the last antipolitical German. He dreamed of tyrants who
were artists. But tyranny comes more naturally than art to mediocre men. "Rather Cesare Borgia than
Parsifal," he exclaimed. He begat both Caesar and Borgia, but devoid of the distinction of feeling which
he attributed to the great men of the Renaissance. As a result of his insistence that the individual should
bow before the eternity of the species and should submerge himself in the great cycle of time, race has
been turned into a special aspect of the species, and the individual has been made to bow before this
sordid god. The life of which he spoke with fear and trembling has been degraded to a sort of biology for
domestic use. Finally, a race of vulgar overlords, with a blundering desire for power, adopted, in his
name, the "anti-Semitic deformity" on which he never ceased to pour scorn.
He believed in courage combined with intelligence, and that was what he called strength. Courage has
been turned in his name against intelligence, and the virtues that were really his have thus been
transformed into their opposite: blind violence. He confused freedom and solitude, as do all proud spirits.
His "profound solitude at midday and at midnight" was nevertheless lost in the mechanized hordes that
finally inundated Europe. Advocate of classic taste, of irony, of frugal defiance, aristocrat who had the
courage to say that aristocracy consisted in practicing virtue without asking for a reason and that a man
who had to have reasons for being honest was not to be trusted, addict of integrity ("integrity that has
become an instinct, a passion"), stubborn supporter of the "supreme equity of the supreme intelligence
that is the mortal enemy of fanaticism," he was set up, thirty-three years after his death, by his own
countrymen as the master of lies and violence, and his ideas and virtues, made admirable by his sacrifice,
have been rendered detestable. In the history of the intelligence, with the exception of Marx, Nietzsche's
adventure has no equivalent; we shall never finish making reparation for the injustice done to him. Of
course history records other philosophies that have been misconstrued and betrayed. But up to the time of
Nietzsche and National
Socialism, it was quite without parallel that a process of thought—brilliantly illuminated by the nobility
and by the sufferings of an exceptional mind—should have been demonstrated to the eyes of the world by
a parade of lies and by the hideous accumulation of corpses in concentration camps. The doctrine of the
superman led to the methodical creation of sub-men—a fact that doubtless should be denounced, but
which also demands interpretation. If the final result of the great movement of rebellion in the nineteenth
and twentieth centuries was to be this ruthless bondage, then surely rebellion should be rejected and
Nietzsche's desperate cry to his contemporaries taken up: "My conscience and yours are no longer the
same conscience."
We must first of all realize that we can never confuse Nietzsche with Rosenberg. We must be the
advocates of Nietzsche. He himself has said so, denouncing in advance his bastard progeny: "he who has
liberated his mind still has to purify himself." But the question is to find out if the liberation of the mind,
as he conceived it, does not preclude purification. The very movement that comes to a head with
Nietzsche, and that sustains him, has its laws and its logic, which, perhaps, explain the bloody travesty of
his philosophy. Is there nothing in his work that can be used in support of definitive murder? Cannot the
killers, provided they deny the spirit in favor of the letter (and even all that remains of the spirit in the
letter), find their pretext in Nietzsche? The answer must be yes. From the moment that the methodical
aspect of Nietzschean thought is neglected (and it is not certain that he himself always observed it), his
rebellious logic knows no bounds.
We also remark that it is not in the Nietzschean refusal to worship idols that murder finds its justification,
but in the passionate approbation that distinguishes Nietzsche's work. To say yes to everything supposes
that one says yes to murder. Moreover, it expresses two ways of consenting to murder. If the slave says
yes to everything, he consents to the existence of a master and to his own sufferings: Jesus teaches
nonresistance. If the master says yes to everything, he consents to slavery and to the suffering of others;
and the result is the tyrant and the glorification of murder. "Is it not laughable that we believe in a sacred,
infrangible
law—thou shalt not lie, thou shalt not kill—in an existence characterized by perpetual lying and perpetual
murder?" Actually metaphysical rebellion, in its initial stages, was only a protest against the lie and the
crime of existence. The Nietzschean affirmative, forgetful of the original negative, disavows rebellion at
the same time that it disavows the ethic that refuses to accept the world as it is. Nietzsche clamored for a
Roman Caesar with the soul of Christ. To his mind, this was to say yes to both slave and master. But, in
the last analysis, to say yes to both was to give one's blessing to the stronger of the two—namely, the
master. Caesar must inevitably renounce the domination of the mind and choose to rule in the realm of
fact. "How can one make the best of crime?" asks Nietzsche, as a good professor faithful to his system.
Caesar must answer: by multiplying it. "When the ends are great," Nietzsche wrote to his own detriment,
"humanity employs other standards and no longer judges crime as such even if it resorts to the most
frightful means." He died in 1900, at the beginning of the century in which that pretension was to become
fatal. It was in vain that he exclaimed in his hour of lucidity, "It is easy to talk about all sorts of immoral
acts; but would one have the courage to carry them through? For example, I could not bear to break my
word or to kill; I should languish, and eventually I should die as a result—that would be my fate." From
the moment that assent was given to the totality of human experience, the way was open to others who,
far from languishing, would gather strength from lies and murder. Nietzsche's responsibility lies in having
legitimized, for reasons of method—and even if only for an instant—the opportunity for dishonesty of
which Dostoievsky had already said that if one offered it to people, one could always be sure of seeing
them rushing to seize it. But his involuntary responsibility goes still farther.
Nietzsche is exactly what he recognized himself as being: the most acute manifestation of nihilism's
conscience. The decisive step that he compelled rebellion to take consists in making it jump from the
negation of the ideal to the secularization of the ideal. Since the salvation of man is not achieved in God,
it must be achieved on earth. Since the world has no direction, man, from the moment
he accepts this, must give it one that will eventually lead to a superior type of humanity. Nietzsche laid
claim to the direction of the future of the human race. "The task of governing the world is going to fall to
our lot." And elsewhere: "The time is approaching when we shall have to struggle for the domination of
the world, and this struggle will be fought in the name of philosophical principles." In these words he
announced the twentieth century. But he was able to announce it because he was warned by the interior
logic of nihilism and knew that one of its aims was ascendancy; and thus he prepared the way for this
ascendancy.
There is freedom for man without God, as Nietzsche imagined him; in other words, for the solitary man.
There is freedom at midday when the wheel of the world stops spinning and man consents to things as
they are. But what is becomes what will be, and the ceaseless change of things must be accepted. The
light finally grows dim, the axis of the day declines. Then history begins again and freedom must be
sought in history; history must be accepted. Nietzscheism—the theory of the individual's will to power—
was condemned to support the universal will to power. Nietzscheism was nothing without world
domination. Nietzsche undoubtedly hated freethinkers and humanitarians. He took the words freedom of
thought in their most extreme sense: the divinity of the individual mind. But he could not stop the
freethinkers from partaking of the same historical fact as himself—the death of God—nor could he
prevent the consequences being the same. Nietzsche saw clearly that humanitarianism was only a form of
Christianity deprived of superior justification, which preserved final causes while rejecting the first cause.
But he failed to perceive that the doctrines of socialist emancipation must, by an inevitable logic of
nihilism, lead to what he himself had dreamed of: superhumanity.
Philosophy secularizes the ideal. But tyrants appear who soon secularize the philosophies that give them
the right to do so. Nietzsche had already predicted this development in discussing Hegel, whose
originality, according to him, consisted in inventing a pantheism in which evil, error, and suffering could
no longer serve as arguments against the divinity. "But the State, the powers that be,
immediately made use of this grandiose initiative." He himself, however, had conceived of a system in
which crime could no longer serve as an argument and in which the only value resided in the divinity of
man. This grandiose initiative also had to be put to use. National Socialism in this respect was only a
transitory heir, only the speculative and rabid outcome of nihilism. In all other respects those who, in
correcting Nietzsche with the help of Marx, will choose to assent only to history, and no longer to all of
creation, will be perfectly logical. The rebel whom Nietzsche set on his kness before the cosmos will,
from now on, kneel before history. What is surprising about that? Nietzsche, at least in his theory of
super-humanity, and Marx before him, with his classless society, both replace the Beyond by the Later
On. In that way Nietzsche betrayed the Greeks and the teachings of Jesus, who, according to him,
replaced the Beyond by the Immediate. Marx, like Nietzsche, thought in strategic terms, and like
Nietzsche hated formal virtue. Their two rebellions, both of which finish similarly in adhesion to a certain
aspect of reality, end by merging into Marxism-Leninism and being incarnated in that caste, already
mentioned by Nietzsche, which would "replace the priest, the teacher, the doctor." The fundamental
difference is that Nietzsche, in awaiting the superman, proposed to assent to what exists and Marx to what
is to come. For Marx, nature is to be subjugated in order to obey history; for Nietzsche, nature is to be
obeyed in order to subjugate history. It is the difference between the Christian and the Greek. Nietzsche,
at least, foresaw what was going to happen: "Modern socialism tends to create a form of secular
Jesuitism, to make instruments of all men"; and again: "What we desire is well-being. ... As a result we
march toward a spiritual slavery such as has never been seen. . . . Intellectual Caesarism hovers over
every activity of the businessman and the philosopher." Placed in the crucible of Nietzschean philosophy,
rebellion, in the intoxication of freedom, ends in biological or historical Caesarism. The absolute negative
had driven Stirner to deify crime simultaneously with the individual. But the absolute affirmative leads to
universalizing murder and mankind simultaneously. Marxism-Leninism has really accepted the burden
of Nietzsche's freewill by means of ignoring several Nietzschean virtues. The great rebel thus creates with
his own hands, and for his own imprisonment, the implacable reign of necessity. Once he had escaped
from God's prison, his first care was to construct the prison of history and of reason, thus putting the
finishing touch to the camouflage and consecration of the nihilism whose conquest he claimed.

The Poets' Rebellion
If metaphysical rebellion refuses to assent and restricts itself to absolute
negation, it condemns itself to passive acceptance. If it prostrates itself in adoration of what exists and
renounces its right to dispute any part of reality, it is sooner or later compelled to act. Ivan Kara-mazov—
who represents non-interference, but in a dolorous aspect—stands halfway between the two positions.
Rebel poetry, at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, constantly oscillated
between these two extremes: between literature and the will to power, between the irrational and the
rational, the desperate dream and ruthless action. The rebel poets—above all, the surrealists—light the
way that leads from passive acceptance to action, along a spectacular short-cut.
Hawthorne was able to say of Melville that, as an unbeliever, he was extremely uneasy in his unbelief. It
can equally well be said of the poets who rushed to assault the heavens, with the intent of turning
everything upside down, that by so doing they affirmed their desperate nostalgia for order. As an ultimate
contradiction, they wanted to extract reason from unreason and to systematize the irrational. These heirs
of romanticism claimed to make poetry exemplary and to find, in its most harrowing aspects, the real way
of life. They deified blasphemy and transformed poetry into experience and into a means of action. Until
their time those who claimed to influence men and events, at least in the Occident, did so in the name of
rational rules. On the contrary, surrealism, after Rimbaud, wanted to find constructive rules in insanity
and destruction. Rimbaud, through his work and only
through his work, pointed out the path, but with the blinding, momentary illumination of a flash of
lightning. Surrealism excavated this path and codified its discoveries. By its excesses as well as by its
retreats, it gave the last and most magnificent expression to a practical theory of irrational rebellion at the
very same time when, on another path, rebellious thought was founding the cult of absolute reason.
Lautreamont and Rimbaud—its sources of inspiration—demonstrate by what stages the irrational desire
to accept appearances can lead the rebel to adopt courses of action completely destructive to freedom.
Lautreamont and Banality
Lautreamont demonstrates that the rebel dissimulates the desire to accept appearance behind the desire for
banality. In either case, whether he abases or vaunts himself, the rebel wants to be other than he is, even
when he is prepared to be recognized for what he really is. The blasphemies and the conformity of
Lautreamont illustrate this unfortunate contradiction, which is resolved in his case in the desire to be
nothing at all. Far from being a recantation, as is generally supposed, the same passion for annihilation
explains Maldoror's invocation of the primeval night and the laborious banalities of the Poesies.
Lautreamont makes us understand that rebellion is adolescent. Our most effective terrorists, whether they
are armed with bombs or with poetry, hardly escape from infancy. The Songs of Maldoror are the works
of a highly talented schoolboy; their pathos lies precisely in the contradictions of a child's mind ranged
against creation and against itself. Like the Rimbaud of the Illuminations, beating against the confines of
the world, the poet chooses the apocalypse and destruction rather than accept the impossible principles
that make him what he is in a world such as it is.
"I offer myself to defend mankind," says Lautreamont, without wishing to be ingenuous. Is Maldoror,
then, the angel of pity? In a certain sense he is, in that he pities himself. Why? That remains to be seen.
But pity deceived, outraged, inadmissible, and unadmitted will lead him to
strange extremities. Maldoror, in his own words, received life like a wound and forbade suicide to heal
the scar (sic). Like Rimbaud he is the one who suffers and who rebelled; each, being strangely reluctant to
say that he is rebelling against what he is, gives the rebel's eternal alibi: love of mankind.
The man who offers himself to defend mankind at the same time writes: "Show me one man who is
good." This perpetual vacillation is part of nihilist rebellion. We rebel against the injustice done to
ourselves and to mankind. But in the moment of lucidity, when we simultaneously perceive the
legitimacy of this rebellion and its futility, the frenzy of negation is extended to the very thing that we
claimed to be defending. Not being able to atone for injustice by the elevation of justice, we choose to
submerge it in an even greater injustice, which is finally confounded with annihilation. "The evil you
have done me is too great, too great the evil I have done you, for it to be involuntary." In order not to be
overcome with self-hatred, one's innocence must be proclaimed, an impossibly bold step for one man
alone, for self-knowledge will prevent him. But at least one can declare that everyone is innocent, though
they may be treated as guilty. God is then the criminal.
From the romantics to Lautreamont, there is, therefore, no real progress, except in style. Lautreamont
resuscitates, once again, with a few improvements, the figure of the God of Abraham and the image of the
Luciferian rebel. He places God "on a throne built of excrement, human and golden," on which sits, "with
imbecile pride, his body covered with a shroud made of unwashed sheets, he who styles himself the
Creator." "The horrible Eternal One with the features of a viper," "the crafty bandit" who can be seen
"stoking the fires in which young and old perish," rolls drunkenly in the gutter, or seeks base pleasures in
the brothel. God is not dead, he has fallen. Face to face with the fallen deity, Maldoror appears as a
conventional cavalier in a black cloak. He is the Accursed. "Eyes must not witness the hideous aspect
which the Supreme Being, with a smile of intense hatred, has granted me." He has forsworn everything—
"father, mother, Providence, love, ideals—so as to think no longer of anything
else but himself." Racked with pride, this hero has all the illusions of the metaphysical dandy: "A face that is more
than human, sad with the sadness of the universe, beautiful as an act of suicide." Like the romantic rebel, Maldoror,
despairing of divine justice, will take the side of evil. To cause suffering and, in causing it, to suffer, that is his lot.
The Songs are veritable litanies of evil.
At this point mankind is no longer even defended. On the contrary, "to attack that wild beast, man, with every
possible weapon, and to attack the creator . . ." that is the intention announced by the Songs. Overwhelmed at the
thought of having God as an enemy, intoxicated with the solitude experienced by great criminals ("I alone against
humanity"), Maldoror goes to war against creation and its author. The Songs exalt "the sanctity of crime," announce
an increasing series of "glorious crimes," and stanza 20 of Song II even inaugurates a veritable pedagogy of crime
and violence.
Such a burning ardor is, at this period, merely conventional. It costs nothing. Lautreamont's real originality lies
elsewhere.1 The romantics maintained with the greatest care the fatal opposition between human solitude and divine
indifference—the literary expressions of this solitude being the isolated castle and the dandy. But Lautreamont's
work deals with a more profound drama. It is quite apparent that he found this solitude insupportable and that,
ranged against creation, he wished to destroy its limits. Far from wanting to fortify the reign of humanity with
crenelated towers, he wishes to merge it with all other reigns. He brought back creation to the shores of the primeval
seas where morality, as well as every other problem, loses all meaning—including the problem, which he considers
so terrifying, of the immortality of the soul. He had no desire to create a spectacular image of the rebel, or of the
dandy, opposed to creation, but to mingle mankind and the world together in the same general destruction. He
attacked the very frontier that separates mankind from the universe. Total freedom, the freedom of crime in
particular, supposes the destruction of human
1 It accounts for the difference between Song I, published separately, which is Byronic in a rather banal way, and the
other Songs, which resound with a monstrous rhetoric.
frontiers. It is not enough to condemn oneself and all mankind to execration. The reign of mankind must still be
brought back to the level of the reign of the instinct. We find in Lautreamont this refusal to recognize rational
consciousness, this return to the elementary which is one of the marks of a civilization in revolt against itself. It is no
longer a question of recognizing appearances, by making a determined and conscious effort, but of no longer
existing at all on the conscious level.
All the creatures that appear in the Songs are amphibious, because Maldoror rejects the earth and its limitations. The
flora is composed of algae and seaweed. Mal-doror's castle is built on the waters. His native land is the timeless sea.
The sea—a double symbol—is simultaneously the place of annihilation and of reconciliation. It quenches, in its own
way, the thirst of souls condemned to scorn themselves and others, and the thirst for oblivion. Thus the Songs
replace the Metamorphoses, and the timeless smile is replaced by the laughter of a mouth slashed with a razor, by
the image of a gnashing, frantic, travesty of humor. This bestiary cannot contain all the meanings that have been
given to it, but undoubtedly it discloses a desire for annihilation which has its origins in the very darkest places of
rebellion. The "stultify yourselves" of Pascal takes on a literal sense with Lautreamont. Apparently he could not bear
the cold and implacable clarity one must endure in order to live. "My subjectivity and one creator—that is too much
for one brain." And so he chose to reduce life, and his work, to the flash of a cuttlefish's fin in the midst of its cloud
of ink. The beautiful passage where Maldoror couples with a female shark on the high seas "in a long, chaste, and
frightful copulation" —above all, the significant passage in which Maldoror, transformed into an octopus, attacks
the Creator—are clear expressions of an escape beyond the frontiers of existence and of a convulsive attack on the
laws of nature.
Those who see themselves banished from the harmonious fatherland where justice and passion finally strike an even
balance still prefer, to solitude, the barren kingdoms where words have no more meaning and where force and the
instincts of blind creatures reign. This challenge is, at the same time, a mortification. The battle with the angel,
in Song II, ends in the defeat and putrefaction of the angel. Heaven and earth are then brought back and intermingled
in the liquid chasms of primordial life. Thus the man-shark of the Songs "only acquired the new change in the
extremities of his arms and legs as an expiatory punishment for some unknown crime." There is, in fact, a crime, or
the illusion of a crime (is it homosexuality?) in Maldoror's virtually unknown life. No reader of the Songs can avoid
the idea that this book is in need of a Stavrogin's Confession.
But there is no confession and we find in the Poesies a redoubling of that mysterious desire for expiation. The spirit
appropriate to certain forms of rebellion which consists, as we shall see, in re-establishing reason at the end of the
irrational adventure, of rediscovering order by means of disorder and of voluntarily loading oneself down with
chains still heavier than those from which release was sought, is described in this book with such a desire for
simplification and with such cynicism that this change of attitude must definitely have a meaning. The Songs, which
exalted absolute negation, are followed by a theory of absolute assent, and uncompromising rebellion is succeeded
by complete conformity—all this with total lucidity. The Poesies, in fact, give us the best explanation of the Songs.
"Despair, fed by the prejudices of hallucination, imper-turbably leads literature to the mass abrogation of laws both
social and divine, and to theoretical and practical wickedness." The Poesies also denounce "the culpability of a
writer who rolls on the slopes of the void and pours scorn on himself with cries of joy." But they prescribe no other
remedy for this evil than metaphysical conformity: "Since the poetry of doubt arrives, in this way, at such a point of
theoretical wickedness and mournful despair, it is poetry that is radically false; for the simple reason that it discusses
principles, and principles should not be discussed" (letter to Darasse). In short, his reasoning recapitulates the
morality of a choirboy or of an infantry manual. But conformity can be passionate, and thereby out of the ordinary.
When the victory of the malevolent eagle over the dragon hope has been proclaimed, Maldoror can still obstinately
repeat that the burden of his song is nothing but hope, and can write: "With my voice and
with the solemnity of the days of my glory, I recall you, O blessed Hope, to my deserted dwelling"—he
must still try to convince. To console humanity, to treat it as a brother, to return to Confucius, Buddha,
Socrates, Jesus Christ, "moralists who wandered through villages, dying of hunger" (which is of doubtful
historical accuracy), are still the projects of despair. Thus virtue and an ordered life have a nostalgic
appeal in the midst of vice. For Lautreamont refuses to pray, and Christ for him is only a moralist. What
he proposes, or rather what he proposes to himself, is agnosticism and the fulfillment of duty. Such a
sound program, unhappily, supposes surrender, the calm of evening, a heart untouched by bitterness, and
untroubled contemplation. Lautreamont rebels when he suddenly writes: "I know no other grace but that
of being born." But one can sense his clenched teeth when he adds: "An impartial mind finds that
enough." But no mind is impartial when confronted with life and death. With Lautreamont, the rebel flees
to the desert. But this desert of conformity is as dreary as Rimbaud's Harrar. The taste for the absolute and
the frenzy of annihilation sterilize him again. Just as Maldoror wanted total rebellion, Lau-treamont, for
the same reasons, demands absolute banality. The exclamation of awareness which he tried to drown in
the primeval seas, to confuse with the howl of the beast, which at another moment he tried to smother in
the adoration of mathematics, he now wants to stifle by applying a dismal conformity. The rebel now tries
to turn a deaf ear to the call that urges him toward the being who lies at the heart of his rebellion. The
important thing is to exist no longer—either by refusing to be anything at all or by accepting to be no
matter what. In either case it is a purely artificial convention. Banality, too, is an attitude.
Conformity is one of the nihilistic temptations of rebellion which dominate a large part of our intellectual
history. It demonstrates how the rebel who takes to action is tempted to succumb, if he forgets his origins,
to the most absolute conformity. And so it explains the twentieth century. Lautreamont, who is usually
hailed as the bard of pure rebellion, on the contrary proclaims the advent of the taste for intellectual
servitude which flourishes in
the contemporary world. The Poesies axe only a preface to a "future work" of which we can only surmise the
contents and which was to have been the ideal end-result of literary rebellion. But this book is being written today,
despite Lautreamont, in millions of copies, by bureaucratic order. Of course, genius cannot be separated from
banality. But it is not a question of the banality of others —the banality that we vainly try to capture and which itself
captures the creative writer, where necessary, with the help of the censors. For the creative writer it is a question of
his own form of banality, which must be completely created. Every genius is at once extraordinary and banal. He is
nothing if he is only one or the other.We must remember this when thinking of rebellion. It has its dandies and its
menials, but it does not recognize its legitimate sons.
Surrealism and Revolution
This is not the place to deal at length with Rimbaud. Everything that can be said about him—and even more,
unfortunately—has already been said. It is worth pointing out, however, for it concerns our subject, that only in his
work was Rimbaud the poet of rebellion. His life, far from justifying the myth it created, only illustrates (an
objective perusal of the letters from Harrar suffices to prove this) the fact that he surrendered to the worst form of
nihilism imaginable. Rimbaud has been deified for renouncing his genius, as if his renunciation implied superhuman
virtue. It must be pointed out, however, despite the fact that by doing so we disqualify the alibis of our
contemporaries, that genius alone—and not the renunciation of genius—implies virtue. Rimbaud's greatness does
not lie in the first poems from Charleville nor in his trading at Harrar. It shines forth at the moment when, in giving
the most peculiarly appropriate expression to rebellion that it has ever received, he simultaneously proclaims his
triumph and his agony, his conception of a life beyond the confines of this world and the inescapability of the world,
the yearning for the unattainable and reality brutally determined on
restraint, the rejection of morality and the irresistible compulsion to duty. At the moment when he carries in his
breast both illumination and the darkness of hell, when he hails and insults beauty, and creates, from an insoluble
conflict, the intricate counterpoint of an exquisite song, he is the poet of rebellion—the greatest of all. The order in
which he wrote his two great works is of no importance. In any case there was very little time between the
conception of the two books, and any artist knows, with the certainty born of experience, that Rimbaud
simultaneously carried the seeds of the Season in Hell (Une Saison en Enfer) and the Illuminations within him.
Though he wrote them one after the other, there is no doubt that he experienced the suffering of both of them at the
same time. This contradiction, which killed him, was the real source of his genius.
But where, then, is the virtue of someone who refuses to face the contradiction and betrays his own genius before
having drunk it to the last bitter drop? Rimbaud's silence is not a new method of rebelling; at least, we can no longer
say so after the publication of the Harrar letters. His metamorphosis is undoubtedly mysterious. But there is also a
mystery attached to the banality achieved by brilliant young girls whom marriage transforms into adding or knitting
machines. The myth woven around Rimbaud supposes and affirms that nothing was possible after the Season in
Hell. But what is impossible for the supremely gifted poet or for the inexhaustibly creative writer? How can we
imagine anything to follow Moby Dick, The Trial, Zarathustra, The Possessed? Nevertheless, they were followed by
great works, which instruct, implement, and bear witness to what is finest in the writer, and which only come to an
end at his death. Who can fail to regret the work that would have been greater than the Season in Hell and of which
we have been deprived by Rimbaud's abdication?
Can Abyssinia be considered as a monastery; is it Christ who shut Rimbaud's mouth? Such a Christ would be the
kind of man who nowadays lords it over the cashier's desk in a bank, to judge by the letters in which the unhappy
poet talks only about his money which he wants
to see "wisely invested" and "bringing in regular dividends." 2 The man who exulted under torture, who
hurled curses at God and at beauty, who hardened himself in the harsh atmosphere of crime, now only
wants to marry someone "with a future." The mage, the seer, the convict who lived perpetually in the
shadow of the penal colony, the man-king on a godless earth, always carried seventeen pounds of gold in
a belt worn uncomfortably round his stomach, which he complained gave him dysentery. Is this the
mythical hero, worshipped by so many young men who, though they do not spit in the face of the world,
would die of shame at the mere idea of such a belt? To maintain the myth, those decisive letters must be
ignored. It is easy to see why they have been so little commented upon. They are a sacrilege, as truth
sometimes is. A great and praiseworthy poet, the greatest of his time, a dazzling oracle—Rimbaud is all
of these things. But he is not the man-god, the burning inspiration, the monk of poetry as he is often
presented. The man only recaptured his greatness in the hospital bed in which, at the hour of his painful
end, even his mediocrity becomes moving: "How unlucky I am, how very unlucky I am . . . and I've
money on me that I can't even keep an eye on!" The defiant cry of those last wretched moments: "No, no,
now I rebel against death!" happily restores Rimbaud to that part of common human experience which
involuntarily coincides with greatness. The young Rimbaud comes to life again on the brink of the abyss
and with him revives the rebellion of the times when his imprecations against life were only expressions
of despair at the thought of death. It is at this point that the bourgeois trader once more rejoins the tortured
adolescent whom we so much admired. He recaptures his youth in the terror and bitter pain finally
experienced by those who do not know how to attain happiness. Only at this point does his passion, and
with it his truth, begin.
Moreover, Harrar was actually foretold in his work, but in the form of his final abdication. "And best of
all,
2 It is only fair to note that the tone of these letters might be explained by the people to whom they are
written. But they do not suggest that Rimbaud is making a great effort to lie. Not one word betrays the
Rimbaud of former times.
a drunken sleep on the beach." The fury of annihilation, appropriate to every rebel, then assumes its most
common form. The apocalypse of crime—as conceived by Rimbaud in the person of the prince who
insatiably slaughters his subjects—and endless licentiousness are rebellious themes that will be taken up
again by the surrealists. But finally, even with Rimbaud, nihilist dejection prevailed; the struggle, the
crime itself, proved too exacting for his exhausted mind. The seer who drank, if we may venture to say so,
in order not to forget ended by finding in drunkenness the heavy sleep so well known to our
contemporaries. One can sleep on the beach, or at Aden. And one consents, no longer actively, but
passively, to accept the order of the world, even if the order is degrading. Rimbaud's silence is also a
preparation for the silence of authority, which hovers over minds resigned to everything save to the
necessity of putting up a fight. Rimbaud's great intellect, suddenly subordinated to money, proclaims the
advent of other demands, which are at first excessive and which will later be put to use by the police. To
be nothing—that is the cry of the mind exhausted by its own rebellion. This leads to the problem of
suicide of the mind, which, after all, is less respectable than the surrealists' suicide, and more fraught with
consequences. Surrealism itself, coming at the end of this great act of rebellion, is only significant
because it attempted to perpetuate that aspect of Rimbaud which alone evokes our sympathy. Deriving the
rules for a rebellious asceticism from the letter about the seer and the system it implies, he illustrates the
struggle between the will to be and the desire for annihilation, between the yes and the no, which we have
discovered again and again at every stage of rebellion. For all these reasons, rather than repeat the,
endless commentaries that surround Rimbaud's work, it seemed preferable to rediscover him and to
follow him among his successors.
Absolute rebellion, total insubordination, sabotage on principle, the humor and cult of the absurd—such is
the nature of surrealism, which defines itself, in its primary intent, as the incessant examination of all
values. The refusal to draw any conclusions is flat, decisive, and provocative. "We are specialists in
rebellion." Surrealism, which,
according to Aragon, is a machine for capsizing the mind, was first conjured up by the Dadaist
movement, whose romantic origins and anemic dandyism must be noted.3Non-signification and
contradiction are therefore cultivated for their own sakes. "The real Dadaists are against Dada. Everyone
is a director of Dada." Or again: "What is good? What is ugly? What is great, strong, weak . . . ? Don't
know! Don't know!" These parlor nihilists were obviously threatened with having to act as slaves to the
strictest orthodoxies. But there is something more in surrealism than standard nonconformism, the legacy
left by Rimbaud, which, in fact, Breton recapitulates as follows: "Must we abandon all hope at that
particular point?"
An urgent appeal to absent life is reinforced by a total rejection of the present world, as Breton's arrogant
statement indicates: "Incapable of accepting the fate assigned to me, my highest perceptions outraged by
this denial of justice, I refrain from adapting my existence to the ridiculous conditions of existence here
below." The mind, according to Breton, can find no point of rest either in this life or beyond it. Surrealism
wants to find a solution to this endless anxiety. It is "a cry of the mind which turns against itself and
finally takes the desperate decision to throw off its bonds." It protests against death and "the laughable
duration" of a precarious condition. Thus surrealism places itself at the mercy of impatience. It exists in a
condition of wounded frenzy: at once inflexible and self-righteous, with the consequent implication of a
moral philosophy. Surrealism, the gospel of chaos, found itself compelled, from its very inception, to
create an order. But at first it only dreamed of destruction—by poetry, to begin with—on the plane of
imprecation, and later by the use of actual weapons. The trial of the real world has become, by logical
development, the trial of creation.
Surrealist irreligion is methodical and rational. At first it established itself on the idea of the absolute
nonculpability of man, to whom one should render "all the power that he has been capable of putting into
the word God." As in every history of rebellion, this idea of abso-
3 Jarry, one of the masters of Dadaism, is the last incarnation, peculiar rather than brilliant, of the
metaphysical dandy.
lute non-culpability, springing from despair, was little by little transformed into a mania for punishment.
The surrealists, while simultaneously exalting human innocence, believed that they could exalt murder
and suicide. They spoke of suicide as a solution and Crevel, who considered this solution "the most
probable, just, and definitive," killed himself, as did Rigaut and Vache. Later Aragon was to condemn the
"babblers about suicide." Nevertheless the fact remains that to extol annihilation, without personal
involvement, is not a very honorable course. On this point surrealism has retained, from the "litterature"
it despised, the most facile excuses and has justified Ri-gaud's staggering remark: "You are all poets, and
I myself am on the side of death."
Surrealism did not rest there. It chose as its hero Violette Noziere or the anonymous common-law
criminal, affirming in this way, in the face of crime, the innocence of man. But it also was rash enough to
say—and this is the statement that Andre Breton must have regretted ever since 1933—that the simplest
surrealist act consisted in going out into the street, revolver in hand, and shooting at random into the
crowd. Whoever refuses to recognize any other determining factor apart from the individual and his
desires, any priority other than that of the unconscious, actually succeeds in rebelling simultaneously
against society and against reason. The theory of the gratuitous act is the culmination of the demand for
absolute freedom. What does it matter if this freedom ends by being embodied in the solitude defined by
Jarry: "When I'll have collected all the ready cash, in the world, I'll kill everybody and go away." The
essential thing is that every obstacle should be denied and that the irrational should be triumphant. What,
in fact, does this apology for murder signify if not that, in a world without meaning and without honor,
only the desire for existence, in all its forms, is legitimate? The instinctive joy of being alive, the stimulus
of the unconscious, the cry of the irrational, are the only pure truths that must be professed. Everything
that stands in the way of desire—principally society—must therefore be mercilessly destroyed. Now we
can understand Andre Breton's remark about Sade: "Certainly man no longer consents to unite with nature
except in crime; it
remains to be seen if this is not one of the wildest, the most incontestable, ways of loving." It is easy to
see that he is talking of love without an object, which is love as experienced by people who are torn
asunder. But this empty, avid love, this insane desire for possession, is precisely the love that society
inevitably thwarts. That is why Breton, who still bears the stigma of his declarations, was able to sing the
praises of treason and declare (as the surrealists have tried to prove) that violence is the only adequate
mode of expression.
But society is not only composed of individuals. It is also an institution. Too well-mannered to kill
everybody, the surrealists, by the very logic of their attitude, came to consider that, in order to liberate
desire, society must first be overthrown. They chose to serve the revolutionary movement of their times.
From Walpole and Sade—with an inevitability that comprises the subject of this book— surrealists
passed on to Helvetius and Marx. But it is obvious that it is not the study of Marxism that led them to
revolution.4 Quite the contrary: surrealism is involved in an incessant effort to reconcile, with Marxism,
the inevitable conclusions that led it to revolution. We can say, without being paradoxical, that the
surrealists arrived at Marxism on account of what, today, they most detest in Marx. Knowing the basis
and the nobility of the motives that compelled him, particularly when one has shared the same lacerating
experiences, one hesitates to remind Andre" Breton that his movement implied the establishment of
"ruthless authority" and of dictatorship, of political fanaticism, the refusal of free discussion, and the
necessity of the death penalty. The peculiar vocabulary of that period is also astonishing ("sabotage,"
"informer," etc.) in that it is the vocabulary of a police-dominated revolution. But these frenetics wanted
"any sort of revolution," no matter what as long as it rescued them from the world of shopkeepers and
compromise in which they were forced to live. In that they could not have the best, they still preferred the
worst. In that respect they were nihilists. They were not aware of the fact that those among them who
were, in
4 The Communists who joined the party as a result of having studied Marx can be counted on the fingers
of one hand. They are first converted and then they read the Scriptures.
the future, to remain faithful to Marxism were faithful at the same time to their initial nihilism. The real
destruction of language, which the surrealists so obstinately wanted, does not lie in incoherence or
automatism. It lies in the word order. It was pointless for Aragon to begin with a denunciation of the
"shameful pragmatic attitude," for in that attitude he finally found total liberation from morality, even if
that liberation coincided with another form of servitude. The surrealist who meditated most profoundly
about this problem, Pierre Naville, in trying to find the denominator common to revolutionary action and
surrealist action, localized it, with considerable penetration, in pessimism, meaning in "the intention of
accompanying man to his downfall and of overlooking nothing that could ensure that his perdition might
be useful." This mixture of Machiavellianism and Augustinism in fact explains twentieth-century
rebellion; no more audacious expression can be given to the nihilism of the times. The renegades of
surrealism were faithful to most of the principles of nihilism. In a certain way, they wanted to die. If
AndreBreton and a few others finally broke with Marxism, it was because there was something in them
beyond nihilism, a second loyalty to what is purest in the origins of rebellion: they did not want to die.
Certainly, the surrealists wanted to profess materialism. "We are pleased to recognize as one of the prime
causes of the mutiny on board the battleship Potemkin that terrible piece of meat." But there is not with
them, as with the Marxists, a feeling of friendship, even intellectual, for that piece of meat. Putrid meat
typifies only the real world, which in fact gives birth to revolt, but against itself. It explains nothing, even
though it justifies everything. Revolution, for the surrealists, was not an end to be realized day by day, in
action, but an absolute and consolatory myth. It was "the real life, like love," of which Eluard spoke, who
at that time had no idea that his friend Kalandra would die of that sort of life. They wanted the
"communism of genius," not the other form of Communism. These peculiar Marxists declared themselves
in rebellion against history and extolled the heroic individual. "History is governed by laws, which are
conditioned by the cowardice of individuals." Andr6 Breton wanted revolution
and love together—and they are incompatible. Revolution consists in loving a man who does not yet exist. But
he who loves a living being, if he really loves, can only consent to die for the sake of the being he loves. In reality,
revolution for Andre Breton was only a particular aspect of rebellion, while for Marxists and, in general, for all
political persuasions, only the contrary is true. Breton was not trying to create, by action, the promised land that was
supposed to crown history. One of the fundamental theses of surrealism is, in fact, that there is no salvation. The
advantage of revolution was not that it gives mankind happiness, "abominable material comfort." On the contrary,
according to Breton, it should purify and illuminate man's tragic condition. World revolution and the terrible
sacrifices it implies would only bring one advantage: "preventing the completely artificial precariousness of the
social condition from screening the real precariousness of the human condition." Quite simply, for Breton, this form
of progress was excessive. One might as well say that revolution should be enrolled in the service of the inner
asceticism by which individual men can transfigure reality into the supernatural, "the brilliant revenge of man's
imagination." With Andre Breton, the supernatural holds the same place as the rational does with Hegel. Thus it
would be impossible to imagine a more complete antithesis to the political philosophy of Marxism. The lengthy
hesitations of those whom Artaud called the Amiels of revolution are easily explained. The surrealists were more
different from Marx than were reactionaries like Joseph de Maistre, for example. The reactionaries made use of the
tragedy of existence to reject revolution—in other words, to preserve a historical situation. The Marxists made use
of it to justify revolution—in other words, to create another historical situation. Both make use of the human tragedy
to further their pragmatic ends. But Breton made use of revolution to consummate the tragedy and, in spite of the
title of his magazine, made use of revolution to further the surrealist adventure.
Finally, the definitive rupture is explained if one considers that Marxism insisted on the submission of the irrational,
while the surrealists rose to defend irrationality to the death. Marxism tended toward the conquest of
totality, and surrealism, like all spiritual experiences, tended toward unity. Totality can demand the
submission of the irrational, if rationalism suffices to conquer the world. But the desire for unity is more
demanding. It does not suffice that everything should be rational. It wants, above all, the rational and the
irrational to be reconciled on the same level. There is no unity that supposes any form of mutilation.
For Andre Breton, totality could be only a stage, a necessary stage perhaps, but certainly inadequate, on
the way that leads to unity. Here we find once again the theme of All or Nothing. Surrealism tends toward
universality, and the curious but profound reproach that Breton makes to Marx consists in saying quite
justifiably that the latter is not universal. The surrealists wanted to reconcile Marx's "let us transform the
world" with Rimbaud's "let us change life." But the first leads to the conquest of the totality of the world
and the second to the conquest of the unity of life. Paradoxically, every form of totality is restrictive. In
the end, the two formulas succeeded in splitting the surrealist group. By choosing Rimbaud, Breton
demonstrated that surrealism was not concerned with action, but with asceticism and spiritual experience.
He again gave first place to what composed the profound originality of his movement: the restoration of
the sacred and the conquest of unity, which make surrealism so invaluable for a consideration of the
problem of rebellion. The more he elaborated on this original concept, the more irreparably he separated
himself from his political companions, and at the same time from some of his first manifestoes.
Andre Breton never, actually, wavered in his support of surrealism—the fusion of a dream and of reality,
the sublimation of the old contradiction between the ideal and the real. We know the surrealist solution:
concrete irrationality, objective risk. Poetry is the conquest, the only possible conquest, of the "supreme
position." "A certain position of the mind from where life and death, the real and the imaginary, the past
and the future . . . cease to be perceived in a contradictory sense."What is this supreme position that
should mark the "colossal abortion of the Hegelian system"? It is the search for the summit-abyss,
familiar to the mystics. Actually, it is the mysticism
without God which demonstrates and quenches the rebel's thirst for the absolute. The essential enemy of
surrealism is rationalism. Breton's method, moreover, presents the peculiar spectacle of a form of
Occidental thought in which the principle of analogy is continually favored to the detriment of the
principles of identity and contradiction. More precisely, it is a question of dissolving contradictions in the
fires of love and desire and of demolishing the walls of death. Magic rites, primitive or naive civilizations,
alchemy, the language of flowers, fire, or sleepless nights, are so many miraculous stages on the way to
unity and the philosophers' stone. If surrealism did not change the world, it furnished it with a few strange
myths which partly justified Nietzsche's announcement of the return of the Greeks. Only partly, because
he was referring to unenlightened Greece, the Greece of mysteries and dark gods. Finally, just as
Nietzsche's experience culminated in the acceptance of the light of day, surrealist experience culminates
in the exaltation of the darkness of night, the agonized and obstinate cult of the tempest. Breton,
according to his own statements, understood that, despite everything, life was a gift. But his compliance
could never shed the full light of day, the light that all of us need. "There is too much of the north in me,"
he said, "for me to be a man who complies entirely."
He nevertheless often diminished, to his own detriment, the importance of negation and advanced the
positive claims of rebellion. He chose severity rather than silence and retained only the "demand for
morality," which, according to Bataille, first gave life to surrealism: "To substitute a new morality for
current morality, which is the cause of all our evils." Of course he did not succeed (nor has anybody in
our time) in the attempt to found a new morality. But he never despaired of being able to do so.
Confronted with the horror of a period in which man, whom he wanted to magnify, has been persistently
degraded in the name of certain principles that surrealism adopted, Breton felt constrained to propose,
provisionally, a return to traditional morality. That represents a hesitation perhaps. But it is the hesitation
of nihilism and the real progress of rebellion. After all, when he could not give himself the morality and
the values of whose necessity
he was clearly aware, we know very well that Breton chose love. In the general meanness of his times—
and this cannot be forgotten—he is the only person who wrote profoundly above love. Love is the
entranced morality that served this exile as a native land. Of course, a dimension is still missing here.
Surrealism, in that it is neither politics nor religion, is perhaps only an unbearable form of wisdom. But it
is also the absolute proof that there is no comfortable form of wisdom: "We want, we shall have, the
hereafter in our lifetime," Breton has admirably exclaimed. While reason embarks on action and sets its
armies marching on the world, the splendid night in which Breton delights announces dawns that have not
yet broken, and, as well, the advent of the poet of our renaissance: Rene Char.

Nihilism and History
One hundred and fifty years of metaphysical rebellion and of nihilism have witnessed the persistent
reappearance, under different guises, of the same ravaged countenance: the face of human protest. All of
them, decrying the human condition and its creator, have affirmed the solitude of man and the
nonexistence of any kind of morality. But at the same time they have all tried to construct a purely
terrestrial kingdom where their chosen principles will hold sway. As rivals of the Creator, they have
inescapably been led to the point of reconstructing creation according to their own concepts. Those who
rejected, for the sake of the world they had just created, all other principles but desire and power, have
rushed to suicide or madness and have proclaimed the apocalypse. As for the rest, who wanted to create
their own principles, they have chosen pomp and ceremony, the world of appearances, or banality, or
again murder and destruction. But Sade and the romantics, Karamazov or Nietzsche only entered the
world of death because they wanted to discover the true life. So that by a process of inversion, it is the
desperate appeal for order that rings through this insane universe. Their conclusions have only proved
disastrous or destructive to freedom from the moment they laid aside the burden of rebellion, fled the
tension that it implies, and chose the comfort of tyranny or of servitude.
Human insurrection, in its exalted and tragic forms, is only, and can only be, a prolonged protest against
death, a violent accusation against the universal death penalty. In every case that we have come across,
the protest is always directed at everything in creation which is dissonant,
opaque, or promises the solution of continuity. Essentially, then, we are dealing with a perpetual demand for unity.
The rejection of death, the desire for immortality and for clarity, are the mainsprings of all these extravagances,
whether sublime or puerile. Is it only a cowardly and personal refusal to die? No, for many of these rebels have paid
the ultimate price in order to live up to their own demands. The rebel does not ask for life, but for reasons for living.
He rejects the consequences implied by death. If nothing lasts, then nothing is justified; everything that dies is
deprived of meaning. To fight against death amounts to claiming that life has a meaning, to fighting for order and
for unity.
The protest against evil which is at the very core of metaphysical revolt is significant in this regard. It is not the
suffering of a child, which is repugnant in itself, but the fact that the suffering is not justified. After all, pain, exile,
or confinement are sometimes accepted when dictated by good sense or by the doctor. In the eyes of the rebel, what
is missing from the misery of the world, as well as from its moments of happiness, is some principle by which they
can be explained. The insurrection against evil is, above all, a demand for unity. The rebel obstinately confronts a
world condemned to death and the impenetrable obscurity of the human condition with his demand for life and
absolute clarity. He is seeking, without knowing it, a moral philosophy or a religion. Rebellion, even though it is
blind, is a form of asceticism. Therefore, if the rebel blasphemes, it is in the hope of finding a new god. He staggers
under the shock of the first and most profound of all religious experiences, but it is a disenchanted religious
experience. It is not rebellion itself that is noble, but its aims, even though its achievements are at times ignoble.
At least we must know how to recognize the ignoble ends it achieves. Each time that it deifies the total rejection, the
absolute negation, of what exists, it destroys. Each time that it blindly accepts what exists and gives voice to
absolute assent, it destroys again. Hatred of the ; creator can turn to hatred of creation or to exclusive and defiant
love of what exists. But in both cases it ends in murder and loses the right to be called rebellion. One can
be nihilist in two ways, in both by having an intemperate recourse to absolutes. Apparently there are rebels who
want to die and those who want to cause death. But they are identical, consumed with desire for the true life,
frustrated by their desire for existence and therefore preferring generalized injustice to mutilated justice. At this
pitch of indignation, reason becomes madness. If it is true that the instinctive rebellion of the human heart advances
gradually through the centuries toward its most complete realization, it has also grown, as we have seen, in blind
audacity, to the inordinate extent of deciding to answer universal murder by metaphysical assassination.
The even if, which we have already recognized as marking the most important moment of metaphysical rebellion, is
in any case only fulfilled in absolute destruction. It is not the nobility of rebellion that illuminates the world today,
but nihilism. And it is the consequences of nihilism that we must retrace, without losing sight of the truth innate in
its origins. Even if God existed, Ivan would never surrender to Him in the face of the injustice done to man. But a
longer contemplation of this injustice, a more bitter approach, transformed the "even if you exist" into "you do not
deserve to exist," therefore "you do not exist." The victims have found in their own innocence the justification for
the final crime. Convinced of their condemnation and without hope of immortality, they decided to murder God. If it
is false to say that from that day began the tragedy of contemporary man, neither is it true to say that there was
where it ended. On the contrary, this attempt indicates the highest point in a drama that began with the end of the
ancient world and of which the final words have not yet been spoken. From this moment, man decides to exclude
himself from grace and to live by his own means. Progress, from the time of Sade up to the present day, has
consisted in gradually enlarging the stronghold where, according to his own rules, man without God brutally wields
power. In defiance of the divinity, the frontiers of this stronghold have been gradually extended, to the point of
making the entire universe into a fortress erected against the fallen and exiled deity. Man, at the culmination of his
rebellion, incarcerated himself; from Sade's lurid castle
to the concentration camps, man's greatest liberty consisted only in building the prison of his crimes. But the state of
siege gradually spreads, the demand for freedom wants to embrace all mankind. Then the only kingdom that is
opposed to the kingdom of grace must be founded —namely, the kingdom of justice—and the human community
must be reunited among the debris of the fallen City of God. To kill God and to build a Church are the constant and
contradictory purpose of rebellion. Absolute freedom finally becomes a prison of absolute duties, a collective
asceticism, a story to be brought to an end. The nineteenth century, which is the century of rebellion, thus merges
into the twentieth, the century of justice and ethics, in which everyone indulges in self-recrimination. Chamfort, the
moralist of rebellion, had already provided the formula: "One must be just before being generous, as one must have
bread before having cake." Thus the ethic of luxury will be renounced in favor of the bitter morality of the empirebuilders.
We must now embark on the subject of this convulsive effort to control the world and to introduce a universal rule.
We have arrived at the moment when rebellion, rejecting every aspect of servitude, attempts to annex all creation.
Every time it experiences a setback, we have already seen that the political solution, the solution of conquest, is
formulated. Henceforth, with the introduction of moral nihilism, it will retain, of all its acquisitions, only the will to
power. In principle, the rebel only wanted to conquer his own existence and to maintain it in the face of God. But he
forgets his origins and, by the law of spiritual imperialism, he sets out in search of world conquest by way of an
infinitely multiplied series of murders. He drove God from His heaven, but now that the spirit of metaphysical
rebellion openly joins forces with revolutionary movements, the irrational claim for freedom paradoxically adopts
reason as a weapon, and as the only means of conquest which appears entirely human. With the death of God,
mankind remains; and by this we mean the history that we must understand and shape. Nihilism, which, in the very
midst of rebellion, smothers the force of creation, only adds that one is justified in using every
means at one's disposal. Man, on an earth that he knows is henceforth solitary, is going to add, to
irrational crimes, the crimes of reason that are bent on the triumph of man. To the "I rebel, therefore we
exist," he adds, with prodigious plans in mind which even include the death of rebellion: "And we are
alone."

Part ThreeHistorical Rebellion

Freedom, "that terrible word inscribed on the chariot of the storm," 1 is the motivating principle of all
revolutions. Without it, justice seems inconceivable to the rebel's mind. There comes a time, however,
when justice demands the suspension of freedom. Then terror, on a grand or small scale, makes its
appearance to consummate the revolution. Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and
an appeal to the essence of being. But one day nostalgia takes up arms and assumes the responsibility of
total guilt; in other words, adopts murder and violence. The servile rebellions, the regicide revolutions,
and those of the twentieth century have thus, consciously, accepted a burden of guilt which increased in
proportion to the degree of liberation they proposed to introduce. This contradiction, which has become
only too obvious, prevents our contemporary revolutionaries from displaying that aspect of happiness and
optimism which shone forth from the faces and the speeches of the members of the Constituent Assembly
in 1789. Is this contradiction inevitable? Does it characterize or betray the value of rebellion? These
questions are bound to arise about revolution as they are bound to arise about metaphysical rebellion.
Actually, revolution is only the logical consequence of metaphysical rebellion, and we shall discover, in
our analysis of the revolutionary movement, the same desperate and bloody effort to affirm the dignity of
man in defiance of the things that deny its existence. The revolutionary spirit thus undertakes the defense
of that part of man which refuses to submit. In other words, it tries to assure him
1 Philothee O'Neddy.
his crown in the realm of time, and, rejecting God, it chooses history with an apparently inevitable logic.
In theory, the word revolution retains the meaning that it has in astronomy. It is a movement that
describes a complete circle, that leads from one form of government to another after a complete transition.
A change of regulations concerning property without a corresponding change of government is not a
revolution, but a reform. There is no kind of economic revolution, whether its methods are violent or
pacific, which is not, at the same time, manifestly political. Revolution can already be distinguished, in
this way, from rebellion. The warning given to Louis XVI: "No, sire, this is not a rebellion, it is a
revolution," accents the essential difference. It means precisely that "it is the absolute certainty of a new
form of government." Rebellion is, by nature, limited in scope. It is no more than an incoherent
pronouncement. Revolution, on the contrary, originates in the realm of ideas. Specifically, it is the
injection of ideas into historical experience, while rebellion is only the movement that leads from
individual experience into the realm of ideas. While even the collective history of a movement of
rebellion is always that of a fruitless struggle with facts, of an obscure protest which involves neither
methods nor reasons, a revolution is an attempt to shape actions to ideas, to fit the world into a theoretic
frame. That is why rebellion kills men while revolution destroys both men and principles. But, for the
same reasons, it can be said that there has not yet been a revolution in the course of history. There could
only be one, and that would be the definitive revolution. The movement that seems to complete the circle
already begins to describe another at the precise moment when the new government is formed. The
anarchists, with Varlet as their leader, were made well aware of the fact that government and revolution
are incompatible in the direct sense. "It implies a contradiction," says Proud-hon, "that a government
could ever be revolutionary, for the very simple reason that it is the government." Now that the
experiment has been made, let us qualify that statement by adding that a government can be revolutionary
only in opposition to other governments. Revolutionary governments are obliged, most of the time, to be
war
governments. The more extensive the revolution, the more considerable the chances of the war that it
implies. The society born of the revolution of 1789 wanted to fight for Europe. The society born of the
1917 revolution is fighting for universal dominion. Total revolution ends by demanding—we shall see
why—the control of the world. While waiting for this to happen, if happen it must, the history of man, in
one sense, is the sum total of his successive rebellions. In other words, the movement of transition which
can be clearly expressed in terms of space is only an approximation in terms of time. What was devoutly
called, in the nineteenth century, the progressive emancipation of the human race appears, from the
outside, like an uninterrupted series of rebellions, which overreach themselves and try to find their
formulation in ideas, but which have not yet reached the point of definitive revolution where everything
in heaven and on earth would be stabilized. A superficial examination seems to imply, rather than any real
emancipation, an affirmation of mankind by man, an affirmation increasingly broad in scope, but always
incomplete. In fact, if there had ever been one real revolution, there would be no more history. Unity
would have been achieved, and death would have been satiated. That is why all revolutionaries finally
aspire to world unity and act as though they believed that history was concluded. The originality of
twentieth-century revolution lies in the fact that, for the first time, it openly claims to realize the ancient
dream of Anarchasis Cloots of unity of the human race and, at the same time, the definitive
consummation of history. Just as the movement of rebellion led to the point of "All or Nothing" and just
as metaphysical rebellion demanded the unity of the world, the twentieth-century revolutionary
movement, when it arrived at the most obvious conclusions of its logic, insisted with threats of force on
arrogating to itself the whole of history. Rebellion is therefore compelled, on pain of appearing futile or
out of date to become revolutionary. It no longer suffices for the rebel to deify himself like Stirner or to
look to his own salvation by adopting a certain attitude of mind. The species must be deified, as Nietzsche
attempted to do, and his ideal of the superman must be adopted so as to assure salvation for all—as Ivan
Karamazov wanted. For the first time, the Possessed appear on the scene and proceed to give the answer
to one of the secrets of the times: the identity of reason and of the will to power. Now that God is dead,
the world must be changed and organized by the forces at man's disposal. The force of imprecation alone
is not enough; weapons are needed and totality must be conquered. Even revolution, particularly
revolution, which claims to be materialist, is only a limitless metaphysical crusade. But can totality claim
to be unity? That is the question which this book must answer. So far we can only say that the purpose of
this analysis is not to give, for the hundredth time, a description of the revolutionary phenomenon, nor
once more to examine the historic or economic causes of great revolutions. Its purpose is to discover in
certain revolutionary data the logical sequence, the explanations, and the invariable themes of
metaphysical rebellion.
The majority of revolutions are shaped by, and derive their originality from, murder. All, or almost all,
have been homicidal. But some, in addition, have practiced regicide and deicide. Just as the history of
metaphysical rebellion began with Sade, so our real inquiry only begins with his contemporaries, the
regicides, who attack the incarnation of divinity without yet daring to destroy the principle of eternity.
(But before this the history of mankind also demonstrates the equivalent of the first movement of
rebellion—the rebellion of the slave.)
When a slave rebels against his master, the situation presented is of one man pitted against another, under
a cruel sky, far from the exalted realms of principles. The final result is merely the murder of a man. The
servile rebellions, peasant risings, beggar outbreaks, rustic revolts, all advance the concept of a principle
of equality, a life for a life, which despite every kind of mystification and audacity will always be found
in the purest manifestations of the revolutionary spirit—Russian terrorism in 1905, for example.
Spartacus' rebellion, which took place as the ancient world was coming to an end, a few decades before
the Christian era, is an excellent illustration of this point.
First we note that this is a rebellion of gladiators—that is to say, of slaves consecrated to single combat and
condemned, for the delectation of their masters, to kill or be killed. Beginning with seventy men, this rebellion
ended with an army of seventy thousand insurgents, which crushed the best Roman legions and advanced through
Italy to march on the Eternal City itself. However, as Andre Prudhommeaux remarks (in The Tragedy of Spartacus),
this rebellion introduced no new principle into Roman life. The proclamation issued by Spartacus goes no
farther than to offer "equal rights" to the slaves. The transition from fact to right, which we analyzed in the first
stage of rebellion, is, indeed, the only logical acquisition that one can find on this level of rebellion. The insurgent
rejects slavery and affirms his equality with his master. He wants to be master in his turn.
Spartacus' rebellion is a continual illustration of this principle of positive claims. The slave army liberates the slaves
and immediately hands over their former masters to them in bondage. According to one tradition, of doubtful
veracity it is true, gladiatorial combats were even organized between several hundred Roman citizens, while the
slaves sat in the grandstands delirious with joy and excitement. But to kill men leads to nothing but killing more
men. For one principle to triumph, another principle must be overthrown. The city of light of which Spartacus
dreamed could only have been built on the ruins of eternal Rome, of its institutions and of its gods. Spartacus' army
marches to lay siege to a Rome paralyzed with fear at the prospect of having to pay for its crimes. At the decisive
moment, however, within sight of the sacred walls, the army halts and wavers, as if it were retreating before the
principles, the institutions, the city of the gods. When these had been destroyed, what could be put in their place
except the brutal desire for justice, the wounded and exacerbated love that until this moment had kept these wretches
on their feet.2 In any case, the army retreated without having
2 Spartacus' rebellion recapitulates the program of the servile rebellions that preceded it. But this program is limited
to the distribution of land and the abolition of slavery. It is not directly concerned with the gods of the city.
fought, and then made the curious move of deciding to return to the place where the slave rebellion
originated, to retrace the long road of its victories and to return to Sicily. It was as though these outcasts,
forever alone and helpless before the great tasks that awaited them and too daunted to assail the heavens,
returned to what was purest and most heartening in their history, to the land of their first awakening,
where it was easy and right to die.
Then began their defeat and martyrdom. Before the last battle, Spartacus crucified a Roman citizen to
show his men the fate that was in store for them. During the battle, Spartacus himself tried with frenzied
determination, the symbolism of which is obvious, to reach Crassus, who was commanding the Roman
legions. He wanted to perish, but in single combat with the man who symbolized, at that moment, every
Roman master; it was his dearest wish to die, but in absolute equality. He did not reach Crassus:
principles wage war at a distance and the Roman general kept himself apart. Spartacus died, as he wished,
but at the hands of mercenaries, slaves like himself, who killed their own freedom with his. In revenge for
the one crucified citizen, Crassus crucified thousands of slaves. The six thousand crosses which, after
such a just rebellion, staked out the road from Capua to Rome demonstrated to the servile crowd that
there is no equality in the world of power and that the masters calculate, at a usurious rate, the price of
their own blood.
The cross is also Christ's punishment. One might imagine that He chose a slave's punishment, a few years
later, only so as to reduce the enormous distance that henceforth would separate humiliated humanity
from the implacable face of the Master. He intercedes, He submits to the most extreme injustice so that
rebellion shall not divide the world in two, so that suffering will also light the way to heaven and preserve
it from the curses of mankind. What is astonishing in the fact that the revolutionary spirit, when it wanted
to affirm the separation of heaven and earth, should begin by disembodying the divinity by killing His
representatives on earth? In certain aspects, the
period of rebellions comes to an end in 1793 and revolutionary times begin—on a scaffold.3
3 In that this book is not concerned with the spirit of rebellion inside Christianity, the Reformation has no place here,
nor the numerous rebellions against ecclesiastical authority which preceded it. But we can say, at least, that the
Reformation prepares the way for Jacobinism and in one sense initiates the reforms that 1789 carries out.

The Regicides
Kings were put to death long before January 21, 1793, and before the regicides of the nineteenth century.
But Ravaillac, Damiens, and their followers were interested in attacking the person, not the principle, of
the king. They wanted another king and that was all. It never occurred to them that the throne could
remain empty forever. 1789 is the starting-point of modern times, because the men of that period wished,
among other things, to overthrow the principle of divine right and to introduce to the historical scene the
forces of negation and rebellion which had become the essence of intellectual discussion in the previous
centuries. Thus they added to traditional tyrannicide the concept of calculated deicide. The so-called
freethinkers, the philosophers and jurists, served as levers for this revolution.1 In order for such an
undertaking to enter into the realms of possibility and to be considered legitimate, it was first necessary
for the Church, whose infinite responsibility it is, to place itself on the side of the masters by
compromising with the executioner—a step that developed into the Inquisition and was perpetuated by
complicity with the temporal powers. Michelet is quite correct in wanting to recognize only two
outstanding characters in the revolutionary saga: Christianity and the French Revolution. In fact, for him,
1789 is explained by the struggle between divine grace and justice. Although Michelet shared the taste for
all-embracing abstractions
1 The kings themselves collaborated in this by allowing political power gradually to encroach on religious
power, thus threatening the very principle of their legitimacy.
with his intemperate period, he saw that this taste was one of the profound causes of the revolutionary
crisis.
Even if the monarchy of the ancien regime was not always arbitrary in its manner of governing, it was
undoubtedly arbitrary in principle. It was founded on divine right, which means that its legitimacy could
never be questioned. Its legitimacy often was questioned, however, in particular by various parliaments.
But those who exercised it considered and presented it as an axiom. Louis XIV, as is well known, rigidly
adhered to the principle of divine right.2 Bossuet gave him considerable help in this direction by saying to
the kings of France: "You are gods." The king, in one of his aspects, is the divine emissary in charge of
human affairs and therefore of the administration of justice. Like God Himself, he is the last recourse of
the victims of misery and injustice. In principle, the people can appeal to the king for help against their
op-pressors. "If the King only knew, if the Czar only knew . . ." was the frequently expressed sentiment of
the French and Russian people during periods of great distress. It is true in France, at least, that, when the
monarchy did know, it often tried to defend the lower classes against the oppressions of the aristocracy
and the bourgeoisie. But was this, essentially, justice? From the absolute point of view, which was the
point of view of the writers of the period, it was not. Even though it is possible to appeal to the king, it is
impossible to appeal against him in so far as he is the embodiment of a principle. He dispenses his
protection and his assistance if and when he wants to. One of the attributes of grace is that it is
discretionary. Monarchy in its theocratic form is a type of government which wants to put grace before
justice by always letting it have the last word. Rousseau in his Savoyard curate's declaration, on the other
hand, is only original in so far as he submits God to justice and in this way inaugurates, with the rather
naive solemnity of the period, contemporary history.
From the moment that the freethinkers began to question the existence of God, the problem of justice
2 Charles I clung so tenaciously to the principle of divine right that he considered it unnecessary to be just
and loyal to those who denied it.
became of primary importance. The justice of the period was, quite simply, confused with equality. The
throne of God totters and justice, to confirm its support of equality, must give it the final push by making
a direct attack on His representative on earth. Divine right to all intents and purposes was already
destroyed by being opposed and forced to compromise with natural right for three years, from 1789 to
1792. In the last resort, grace is incapable of compromise. It can give in on certain points, but never on the
final point. But that does not suffice. According to Michelet, Louis XVI still wanted to be king in prison.
In a France entirely governed by new principles, the principle that had been defeated still survived behind
prison walls through the mere power of faith and through the existence of one human being. Justice has
this in common with grace, and this alone, that it wants to be total and to rule absolutely. From the
moment they conflict, they fight to the death. "We do not want to condemn the King," said Danton, who
had not even the good manners of a lawyer, "we want to kill him." In fact, if God is denied, the King must
die. Saint-Just, it seems, was responsible for Louis XVI's death; but when he exclaims: "To-determine the
principle in virtue of which the accused is perhaps to die, is to determine the principle by which the
society that judges him lives," he demonstrates that it is the philosophers who are going to kill the King:
the King must die in the name of the social contract.3 But this demands an explanation.

The New Gospel
The Social Contract is, primarily, an inquiry into the legitimacy of power. But it is a book about rights,
not about facts, and at no time is it a collection of sociological observations. It is concerned with
principles and for this very reason is bound to be controversial. It presumes that traditional legitimacy,
which is supposedly of divine origin,
3 Rousseau would not, of course, have wanted this. It must be remembered, before proceeding with this
analysis and in order to set its limits, that Rousseau firmly declared: "Nothing on this earth is worth
buying at the price of human blood."
is not acquired. Thus it proclaims another sort of legitimacy and other principles. The Social Contract is
also a catechism, of which it has both the tone and the dogmatic language. Just as 1789 completes the
conquests of the English and American revolutions, so Rousseau pushes to its limits the theory of the
social contract to be found in Hobbes. The Social Contract amplifies and dogmatically explains the new
religion whose god is reason, confused with nature, and whose representative on earth, in place of the
king, is the people considered as an expression of the general will.
The attack on the traditional order is so evident that, from the very first chapter, Rousseau is determined
to demonstrate the precedence of the citizens' pact, which established the people, over the pact between
the people and the king, which founded royalty. Until Rousseau's time, God created kings, who, in their
turn, created peoples. After The Social Contract, peoples create themselves before creating kings. As for
God, there is nothing more to be said, for the time being. Here we have, in the political field, the
equivalent of Newton's revolution. Power, therefore, is no longer arbitrary, but derives its existence from
general consent. In other words, power is no longer what is, but what should be. Fortunately, according to
Rousseau, what is cannot be separated from what should be. The people are sovereign "only because they
are always everything that they should be." Confronted with this statement of principle, it is perfectly
justifiable to say that reason, which was always obstinately invoked at that period, is not particularly well
treated in the context. It is evident that, with The Social Contract, we are assisting at the birth of a new
mystique—the will of the people being substituted for God Himself. "Each of us," says Rousseau, "places
his person and his entire capabilities under the supreme guidance of the will of the people, and we receive
each individual member into the body as an indivisible part of the whole."
This political entity, proclaimed sovereign, is also defined as a divine entity. Moreover, it has all the
attributes of a divine entity. It is, in fact, infallible in that, in its role of sovereign, it cannot even wish to
commit abuses. "Under the law of reason, nothing is done without cause."
It is totally free, if it is true that absolute freedom is freedom in regard to oneself. Thus Rousseau declares
that it is against the nature of the body politic for the sovereign power to impose a law upon itself that it
cannot violate. It is also inalienable, indivisible; and, finally, it even aims at solving the great theological
problem, the contradiction between absolute power and divine innocence. The will of the people is, in
fact, coercive; its power has no limits. But the punishment it inflicts on those who refuse to obey it is
nothing more than a means of "compelling them to be free." The deification is completed when Rousseau,
separating the sovereign from his very origins, reaches the point of distinguishing between the general
will and the will of all. This can be logically deduced from Rousseau's premises. If man is naturally good,
if nature as expressed in him is identified with reason,4 he will express the preeminence of reason, on the
one condition that he expresses himself freely and naturally. He can no longer, therefore, go back on his
decision, which henceforth hovers over him. The will of the people is primarily the expression of
universal reason, which is categorical. The new God is born. That is why the words that are to be found
most often in The Social Contract are the words absolute, sacred, inviolable. The body politic thus
defined, whose laws are sacred commandments, is only a by-product of the mystic body of temporal
Christianity. The Social Contract, moreover, terminates with a description of a civil religion and makes of
Rousseau a harbinger of contemporary forms of society which exclude not only opposition but even
neutrality. Rousseau is, in fact, the first man in modern times to institute the profession of civil faith. He
is also the first to justify the death penalty in a civil society and the absolute submission of the subject to
the authority of the sovereign. "It is in order not to become victim of an assassin that we consent to die if
we become assassins." A strange justification, but one which firmly establishes the fact that you must
know how to die if the sovereign commands, and must, if necessary, concede that he is right and you are
wrong. This mystic idea explains Saint-Just's silence from the time of his arrest until he goes to the
4 Every ideology is contrary to human psychology.
scaffold. Suitably developed, it equally well explains the enthusiasm of the defendants in the Moscow
trials.
We are witnessing the dawn of a new religion with its martyrs, its ascetics, and its saints. To be able to
estimate the influence achieved by this gospel, one must have some idea of the inspired tones of the
proclamations of 1789. Fauchet, confronted with the skeletons discovered in the Bastille, exclaims: "The
day of revelation is upon us. . . . The very bones have risen at the sound of the voice of French freedom;
they bear witness against the centuries of oppression and death, and prophesy the regeneration of human
nature and of the life of nations." Then he predicts: "We have reached the heart of time. The tyrants are
ready to fall." It is the moment of astonished and generous faith when a remarkably enlightened mob
overthrows the scaffold and the wheel at Versailles.5 Scaffolds seemed to be the very altars of religion
and injustice. The new faith could not tolerate them. But a moment comes when faith, if it becomes
dogmatic, erects its own altars and demands unconditional adoration. Then scaffolds reappear and despite
the altars, the freedom, the oaths, and the feasts of Reason, the Masses of the new faith must now be
celebrated with blood. In any case, in order that 1789 shall mark the beginning of the reign of "holy
humanity"6 and of "Our Lord the human race," 7 the fallen sovereign must first of all disappear. The
murder of the King-priest will sanction the new age—which endures to this day.

The Execution of the King
Saint-Just introduced Rousseau's ideas into the pages of history. At the King's trial, the essential part of
his arguments consisted in saying that the King is not inviolable and should be judged by the Assembly
and not by
5 The same idyl takes place in Russia, in 1905, where the soviet of St. Petersburg parades through the
streets carrying placards demanding the abolition of the death penalty, and again in 1917.
6 Vergniaud.
7 Anarchasis Cloots.
a special tribunal. His arguments he owed to Rousseau. A tribunal cannot be the judge between the king
and the sovereign people. The general will cannot be cited before ordinary judges. It is above everything.
The inviolability and the transcendence of the general will are thus proclaimed. We know that the
predominant theme of the trial was the inviolability of the royal person. The struggle between grace and
justice finds its most provocative illustration in 1793 when two different conceptions of transcendence
meet in mortal combat. Moreover, Saint-Just is perfectly aware of how very much is at stake: "The spirit
in which the King is judged will be the same as the spirit in which the Republic is established."
Saint-Just's famous speech has, therefore, all the earmarks of a theological treatise. "Louis, the stranger in
our midst," is the thesis of this youthful prosecutor. If a contract, either civil or natural, could still bind the
king and his people, there would be a mutual obligation; the will of the people could not set itself up as
absolute judge to pronounce absolute judgment. Therefore it is necessary to prove that no agreement
binds the people and the king. In order to prove that the people are themselves the embodiment of eternal
truth it is necessary to demonstrate that royalty is the embodiment of eternal crime. Saint-Just, therefore,
postulates that every king is a rebel or a usurper. He is a rebel against the people whose absolute
sovereignty he usurps. Monarchy is not a king, "it is crime." Not a crime, but crime itself, says Saint-Just;
in other words, absolute profanation. That is the precise, and at the same time ultimate, meaning of Saint-
Just's remark, the import of which has been stretched too far:8 "No one can rule innocently." Every king is
guilty, because any man who wants to be king is automatically on the side of death. Saint-Just says
exactly the same thing when he proceeds to demonstrate that the sovereignty of the people is a "sacred
matter." Citizens are inviolable and sacred and can be constrained only by the law, which is an expression
of their common will. Louis alone does not benefit by this particular inviolability or by the assistance of
the
8 Or at least the significance of which has been anticipated. When Saint-Just made this remark, he did not
know that he was already speaking for himself.
law, for he is placed outside the contract. He is not part of the general will; on the contrary, by his very
existence he is a blasphemer against this all-powerful will. He is not a "citizen," which is the only way of
participating in the new divine dispensation. "What is a king in comparison with a Frenchman?"
Therefore, he should be judged and nothing more.
But who will interpret the will of the people and pronounce judgment? The Assembly, which by its origin
has retained the right to administer this will, and which participates as an inspired council in the new
divinity. Should the people be asked to ratify the judgment? We know that the efforts of the monarchists
in the Assembly were finally concentrated on this point. In this way the life of the King could be rescued
from the logic of the bourgeois jurists and at least entrusted to the spontaneous emotions and compassion
of the people. But here again Saint-Just pushes his logic to its extremes and makes use of the conflict,
invented by Rousseau, between the general will and the will of all. Even though the will of all would
pardon, the general will cannot do so. Even the people cannot efface the crime of tyranny. Cannot the
victims, according to law, withdraw their complaint? We are not dealing with law, we are dealing with
theology. The crime of the king is, at the same time, a sin against the ultimate nature of things. A crime is
committed; then it is pardoned, punished, or forgotten. But the crime of royalty is permanent; it is
inextricably bound to the person of the king, to his very existence. Christ Himself, though He can forgive
sinners, cannot absolve false gods. They must disappear or conquer. If the people forgive today, they will
find the crime intact tomorrow, even though the criminal sleeps peacefully in prison. Therefore there is
only one solution: "To avenge the murder of the people by the death of the King."
The only purpose of Saint-Just's speech is, once and for all, to block every egress for the King except the
one leading to the scaffold. If, in fact, the premises of The Social Contract are accepted, this is logically
inevitable. At last, after Saint-Just, "kings will flee to the desert, and nature will resume her rights." It was
quite pointless of the Convention to vote a reservation and say that it did
not intend to create a precedent if it passed judgment on Louis XVI or if it pronounced a security measure. In doing
so, it refused to face the consequences of its own principles and tried to camouflage, with shocking hypocrisy, its
real purpose, which was to found a new form of absolutism. Jacques Roux, at least, was speaking the truth of the
times when he called the King Louis the Last, thus indicating that the real revolution, which had already been
accomplished on the economic level, was then taking place on the philosophic plane and that it implied a twilight of
the gods. Theocracy was attacked in principle in 1789 and killed in its incarnation in 1793. Brissot was right in
saying: "The most solid monument to our revolution is philosophy." 9
On January 21, with the murder of the King-priest, was consummated what has significantly been called the passion
of Louis XVI. It is certainly a crying scandal that the public assassination of a weak but goodhearted man has been
presented as a great moment in French history. That scaffold marked no climax—far from it. But the fact remains
that, by its consequences, the condemnation of the King is at the crux of our contemporary history. It symbolizes the
secularization of our history and the disincarna-tion of the Christian God. Up to now God played a part in history
through the medium of the kings. But His representative in history has been killed, for there is no longer a king.
Therefore there is nothing but a semblance of God, relegated to the heaven of principles.1
The revolutionaries may well refer to the Gospel, but in fact they dealt a terrible blow to Christianity, from which it
has not yet recovered. It really seems as if the execution of the King, followed, as we know, by hysterical scenes of
suicide and madness, took place in complete awareness of what was being done. Louis XVI seems, sometimes, to
have doubted his divine right, though he systematically rejected any projected legislation which threatened his faith.
But from the moment that he suspected or knew his fate, he seemed to identify himself, as his language betrayed,
with his divine mission, so that
9 The religious Wars of the Vendee showed him to be right again.
1 This will become the god of Kant, Jacobi, and Fichte.
there would be no possible doubt that the attempt on his person was aimed at the King-Christ, the
incarnation of the divinity, and not at the craven flesh of a mere man. His bedside book in the Temple was
the Imitation. The calmness and perfection that this man of rather average sensibility displayed during his
last moments, his indifference to everything of this world, and, finally, his brief display of weakness on
the solitary scaffold, so far removed from the people whose ears he had wanted to reach, while the terrible
rolling of the drum drowned his voice, give us the right to imagine that it was not Capet who died, but
Louis appointed by divine right, and that with him, in a certain manner, died temporal Christianity. To
emphasize this sacred bond, his confessor sustained him, in his moment of weakness, by reminding him
of his "resemblance" to the God of Sorrows. And Louis XVI recovers himself and speaks in the language
of this God: "I shall drink," he says, "the cup to the last dregs." Then he commits himself, trembling, into
the ignoble hands of the executioner.

The Religion of Virtue
A religion that executes its obsolete sovereign must now establish the power of its new sovereign; it
closes the churches, and this leads to an endeavor to build a temple. The blood of the gods, which for a
second bespatters the confessor of Louis XVI, announces a new baptism. Joseph de Maistre qualified the
Revolution as satanic. We can see why and in what sense. Michelet, however, was closer to the truth
when he called it a purgatory. An era blindly embarks down this tunnel on an attempt to discover a new
illumination, a new happiness, and the face of the real God. But what will this new god be? Let us ask
Saint-Just once more.
The year 1789 does not yet affirm the divinity of man, but the divinity of the people, to the degree in
which the will of the people coincides with the will of nature and of reason. If the general will is freely
expressed, it can only be the universal expression of reason. If the people are free, they are infallible.
Once the King is dead, and
the chains of the old despotism thrown off, the people are going to express what, at all times and in all
places, is, has been, and will be the truth. They are the oracle that must be consulted to know what the
eternal order of the world demands. Vox populi, vox naturae. Eternal principles govern our conduct:
Truth, Justice, finally Reason. There we have the new God. The Supreme Being, whom cohorts of young
girls come to adore at the Feast of Reason, is only the ancient god disembodied, peremptorily deprived of
any connection with the earth, and launched like a balloon into a heaven empty of all transcendent
principles. Deprived of all his representatives, of any intercessor, the god of the lawyers and philosophers
only has the value of a demonstration. He is not very strong, in fact, and we can see why Rousseau, who
preached tolerance, thought that atheists should be condemned to death. To ensure the adoration of a
theorem for any length of time, faith is not enough; a police force is needed as well. But that will only
come later. In 1793 the new faith is still intact, and it will suffice, to take Saint-Just's word, to govern
according to the dictates of reason. The art of ruling, according to him, has produced only monsters
because, before his time, no one wished to govern according to nature. The period of monsters has come
to an end with the termination of the period of violence. "The human heart advances from nature to
violence, from violence to morality." Morality is, therefore, only nature finally restored after centuries of
alienation. Man only has to be given law "in accord with nature and with his heart," and he will cease to
be unhappy and corrupt. Universal suffrage, the foundation of the new laws, must inevitably lead to a
universal morality. "Our aim is to create an order of things which establishes a universal tendency toward
good."
The religion of reason quite naturally establishes the Republic of law and order. The general will is
expressed in laws codified by its representatives. "The people make the revolution, the legislator makes
the Republic." "Immortal, impassive" institutions, "sheltered from the temerity of man," will govern in
their turn the lives of all men by universal accord and without possibility of contradiction since by
obeying the laws all will only be obeying themselves.
"Outside the law," says Saint-Just, "everything is sterile and dead." It is the formal and legalistic Republic of
the Romans. We know the passion of Saint-Just and his contemporaries for ancient Rome. The decadent young man
who, in Reims, spent hours in a room painted black and decorated with white teardrops, with the shutters closed,
dreamed of the Spartan Republic. The author of Organt, a long and licentious poem, was absolutely convinced of
the necessity for frugality and virtue. In the institutions that he invented, Saint-Just refused to allow children to eat
meat until the age of sixteen, and he dreamed of a nation that was both vegetarian and revolutionary. "The world has
been empty since the Romans," he exclaimed. But heroic times were at hand. Cato, Brutus, Scaevola, had become
possible once more. The rhetoric of the Latin moralists flourished once again. Vice, virtue, corruption, were terms
that constantly recurred in the oratory of the times, and even more in the speeches of Saint-Just, of which they were
the perpetual burden. The reason for this is simple. This perfect edifice, as Montesquieu had already seen, could not
exist without virtue. The French Revolution, by claiming to build history on the principle of absolute purity,
inaugurates modern times simultaneously with the era of formal morality.
What, in fact, is virtue? For the bourgeois philosopher of the period it is conformity with nature2 and, in politics,
conformity with the law, which expresses the general will. "Morality," says Saint-Just, "is stronger than tyrants." It
has, in fact, just killed Louis XVI. Every form of disobedience to law therefore comes, not from an imperfection in
the law, which is presumed to be impossible, but from a lack of virtue in the refractory citizen. That is why the
Republic not only is an assembly, as Saint-Just forcibly says, but is also virtue itself. Every form of moral corruption
is at the same time political corruption, and vice versa. A principle of infinite repression, derived from this very
doctrine, is then established. Undoubtedly Saint-Just was sincere in his desire for a universal idyl. He really dreamed
of a republic of ascetics, of humanity reconciled
2 But nature itself, as we encounter it in the works of Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, conforms to a pre-established virtue.
Nature is also an abstract principle.
and dedicated to the chaste pursuits of the age of innocence, under the watchful eye of those wise old men
whom he decked out in advance with a tricolor scarf and a white plume. We also know that, at the
beginning of the Revolution, Saint-Just declared himself, at the same time as Robespierre, against the
death penalty. He only demanded that murderers should be dressed in black for the rest of their lives. He
wanted to establish a form of justice which did not attempt "to find the culprit guilty, but to find him
weak"—an admirable ambition. He also dreamed of a republic of forgiveness which would recognize that
though the fruits of crime are bitter, its roots are nevertheless tender. One of his outbursts, at least, came
from the heart and is not easily forgotten: "it is a frightful thing to torment the people." Yes indeed, it is a
frightful thing. But a man can realize this and yet submit to principles that imply, in the final analysis, the
torment of the people.
Morality, when it is formal, devours. To paraphrase Saint-Just, no one is virtuous innocently. From the
moment that laws fail to make harmony reign, or when the unity which should be created by adherence to
principles is destroyed, who is to blame? Factions. Who compose the factions? Those who deny by their
very actions the necessity of unity. Factions divide the sovereign; therefore they are blasphemous and
criminal. They, and they alone, must be combated. But what if there are many factions? All shall be
fought to the death. Saint-Just exclaims: "Either the virtues or the Terror." Freedom must be guaranteed,
and the draft constitution presented to the Convention already mentions the death penalty. Absolute virtue
is impossible, and the republic of forgiveness leads, with implacable logic, to the republic of the
guillotine. Montesquieu had already denounced this logic as one of the causes of the decadence of
societies, saying that the abuse of power is greatest when laws do not anticipate it. The pure law of Saint-
Just did not take into account the truth, which is as old as history itself, that law, in its essence, is bound
to be transgressed.

The Terror
Saint-Just, the contemporary of Sade, finally arrives at the justification of crime, though he starts from
very different principles. Saint-Just is, of course, the anti-Sade. If Sade's formula were "Open the prisons
or prove your virtue," then Saint-Just's would be: "Prove your virtue or go to prison." Both, however,
justify terrorism—the libertine justifies individual terrorism, the high priest of virtue State terrorism.
Absolute good and absolute evil, if the necessary logic is applied, both demand the same degree of
passion. Of course, there is a certain ambiguity in the case of Saint-Just. The letter which he wrote to
Vilain d'Aubigny in 1792 has something really insane about it. It is a profession of faith by a persecuted
persecutor which ends with a hysterical avowal: "If Brutus does not kill others, he will kill himself." A
personality so obstinately serious, so voluntarily cold, logical, and imperturbable, leads one to imagine
every kind of aberration and disorder. Saint-Just invented the kind of seriousness which makes the history
of the last two centuries so tedious and depressing. "He who makes jokes as the head of a government,"
he said, "has a tendency to tyranny." An astonishing maxim, above all if one thinks of the penalty for the
mere accusation of tyranny, one which, in any case, prepared the way for the pedant Caesars. Saint-Just
sets the example; even his tone is definitive. That cascade of peremptory affirmatives, that axiomatic and
sententious style, portrays him better than the most faithful painting. His sentences drone on; his
definitions follow one another with the coldness and precision of commandments. "Principles should be
moderate, laws implacable, principles without redress." It is the style of the guillotine.
Such pertinacity in logic, however, implies a profound passion. Here, as elsewhere, we again find the
passion for unity. Every rebellion implies some kind of unity. The rebellion of 1789 demands the unity of
the whole country. Saint-Just dreams of an ideal city where manners and customs, in final agreement with
the law, will proclaim the innocence of man and the identity of his nature with reason. And if factions
arise to interrupt this dream, passion
will exaggerate its logic. No one will dare to imagine that, since factions exist, the principles are perhaps
wrong. Factions will be condemned as criminal because principles remain intangible. "It is time that
everyone returned to morality and the aristocracy to the Terror." But the aristocratic factions are not the
only ones to be reckoned with; there are the republicans, too, and anyone else who criticizes the actions of
the legislature and of the Convention. They, too, are guilty, since they threaten unity. Saint-Just, then,
proclaims the major principle of twentieth-century tyrannies. "A patriot is he who supports the Republic
in general; whoever opposes it in detail is a traitor." Whoever criticizes it is a traitor, whoever fails to give
open support is a suspect.When neither reason nor the free expression of individual opinion succeeds in
systematically establishing unity, it must be decided to suppress all alien elements. Thus the guillotine
becomes a logician whose function is refutation. "A rogue who has been condemned to death by the
tribunal says he wants to resist oppression simply because he wants to resist the scaffold!" Saint-Just's
indignation is hard to understand in that, until his time, the scaffold was precisely nothing else but one of
the most obvious symbols of oppression. But at the heart of this logical delirium, at the logical conclusion
of this morality of virtue, the scaffold represents freedom. It assures rational unity, and harmony in the
ideal city. It purifies (the word is apt) the Republic and eliminates malpractices that arise to contradict the
general will and universal reason. "They question my right to the title of philanthropist," Marat exclaims,
in quite a different style. "Ah, what injustice! Who cannot see that I want to cut off a few heads to save a
great number?" A few—a faction? Naturally—and all historic actions are performed at this price. But
Marat, making his final calculations, claimed two hundred and seventy-three thousand heads. But he
compromised the therapeutic aspect of the operation by screaming during the massacre: "Brand them with
hot irons, cut off their thumbs, tear out their tongues." This philanthropist wrote day and night, in the
most monotonous vocabulary imaginable, of the necessity of killing in order to create. He wrote again, by
candlelight deep down in his cellar, during the September nights while his henchmen were installing
spectators' benches in prison
courtyards—men on the right, women on the left—to display to them, as a gracious example of
philanthropy, the spectacle of the aristocrats having their heads cut off.
Do not let us confuse, even for a moment, the imposing figure of Saint-Just with the sad spectacle of
Marat—Rousseau's monkey, as Michelet rightly calls him. But the drama of Saint-Just lies in having at
moments joined forces, for superior and much deeper reasons, with Marat. Factions join with factions,
and minorities with minorities, and in the end it is not even sure that the scaffold functions in the service
of the will of all. But at least Saint-Just will affirm, to the bitter end, that it functions in the service of the
general will, since it functions in the service of virtue. "A revolution such as ours is not a trial, but a clap
of thunder for the wicked." Good strikes like a thunderbolt, innocence is a flash of lightning—a flash of
lightning that brings justice. Even the pleasure-seekers—in fact, they above all —are
counterrevolutionaries. Saint-Just, who said that the idea of happiness was new to Europe (actually it was
mainly new for Saint-Just, for whom history stopped at Brutus), remarks that some people have an
"appalling idea of what happiness is and confuse it with pleasure." They, too, must be dealt with firmly.
Finally, it is no longer a question of majority or minority. Paradise, lost and always coveted by universal
innocence, disappears into the distance; on the unhappy earth, racked with the cries of civil and national
wars, Saint-Just decrees, against his nature and against his principles, that when the whole country
suffers, then all are guilty. The series of reports on the factions abroad, the law of the 22 Prairial, the
speech of April 15, 1794 on the necessity of the police, mark the stages of this conversion. The man who
with such nobility held that it was infamous to lay down one's arms while there remained, somewhere in
the world, one master and one slave, is the same man who had to agree to suspend the Constitution of
1793 and to adopt arbitrary rule. In the speech that he made to defend Robespierre, he rejects fame and
posterity and only refers himself to an abstract providence. At the same time, he recognized that virtue, of
which he made a religion, has no other reward but history and the present, and that it must, at all costs, lay
the foundations of its own reign. He did not like power
which he called "cruel and wicked" and which, he said, "advanced toward repression, without any guiding
principle." But the guiding principle was virtue and was derived from the people. When the people failed, the
guiding principle became obscured and oppression increased. Therefore it was the people who were guilty and not
power, which must remain, in principle, innocent. Such an extreme and outrageous contradiction could only be
resolved by an even more extreme logic and by the final acceptance of principles in silence and in death. Saint-Just
at least remained equal to this demand, and in this way was at last to find his greatness and that independent life in
time and space of which he spoke with such emotion.
For a long time he had, in fact, had a presentiment that the demands he made implied a total and unreserved sacrifice
on his part and had said himself that those who make revolutions in this world—"those who do good"— can sleep
only in the tomb. Convinced that his principles, in order to triumph, must culminate in the virtue and happiness of
his people, aware, perhaps, that he was asking the impossible, he cut off his own retreat in advance by declaring that
he would stab himself in public on the day when he despaired of the people. Nevertheless, he despairs, since he has
doubts about the Terror. "The revolution is frozen, every principle has been attenuated; all that remains are red caps
worn by intriguers. The exercise of terror has blunted crime as strong drink blunts the palate." Even virtue "unites
with crime in times of anarchy." He said that all crime sprang from tyranny, which was the greatest crime of all, and
yet, confronted with the unflagging obstinacy of crime, the Revolution itself resorted to tyranny and became
criminal. Thus crime cannot be obliterated, nor can factions, nor the despicable desire for enjoyment; the people
must be despaired of and subjugated. But neither is it possible to govern innocently. Thus, evil must be either
suffered or served, principles must be declared wrong or the people and mankind must be recognized as guilty. Then
Saint-Just averts his mysterious and handsome face: "It would be leaving very little to leave a life in which one must
be either the accomplice or the silent witness of evil." Brutus, who must kill himself
if he does not kill others, begins by killing others. But the others are too many; they cannot all be
killed. In that case he must die and demonstrate, yet again, that rebellion, when it gets out of hand, swings
from the annihilation of others to the destruction of the self. This task, at any rate, is easy; once again it
suffices to follow logic to the bitter end. In his speech in defense of Robespierre, shortly before his death,
Saint-Just reaffirms the guiding principle of his actions, which is the very same principle that leads to his
condemnation: "I belong to no faction, I shall fight against them all." He accepted then, and in advance,
the decision of the general will—in other words, of the Assembly. He agreed to go to his death for love of
principle and despite all the realities of the situation, since the opinion of the Assembly could only really
be swayed by the eloquence and fanaticism of a faction. But that is beside the point! When principles fail,
men have only one way to save them and to preserve their faith, which is to die for them. In the stifling
heat of Paris in July, Saint-Just, ostensibly rejecting reality and the world, confesses that he stakes his life
on the decision of principles. When this has been said, he seems to have a fleeting perception of another
truth, and ends with a restrained denunciation of his colleagues Billaud-Varennes and Collot d'Herbois. "I
want them to justify themselves and I want us to become wiser." The style and the guillotine are here
suspended for a moment. But virtue, in that it has too much pride, is not wisdom. The guillotine is going
to fall again on that head as cold and beautiful as morality itself. From the moment that the Assembly
condemns him until the moment when he stretches his neck to the knife, Saint-Just keeps silent. This long
silence is more important than his death. He complained that silence reigned around thrones and that is
why he wanted to speak so much and so well. But in the end, contemptuous of the tyranny and the enigma
of a people who do not conform to pure reason, he resorts to silence himself. His principles do not allow
him to accept things as they are; and, things not being what they should be, his principles are therefore
fixed, silent, and alone. To abandon oneself to principles is really to die—and to die for an impossible
love which is the
contrary of love. Saint-Just dies, and, with him, all hope of a new religion.
"All the stones are cut to build the structure of freedom," said Saint-Just; "you can build a palace or a
tomb of the same stones." The very principles of The Social Contract presided at the erection of the tomb
that Napoleon Bonaparte came to seal. Rousseau, who was not wanting in common sense, understood
very well that the society envisioned by The Social Contract was suitable only for gods. His successors
took him at his word and tried to establish the divinity of man. The red flag—a symbol of martial law and
therefore of the executive under the ancien regime—became the revolutionary symbol on August 10,
1792. A significant transfer about which Jaures comments as follows: "It is we the people who are the
law. . . . We are not rebels. The rebels are in the Tuileries." But it is not so easy as that to become God.
Even the ancient gods did not die at the first blow, and the revolutions of the nineteenth century were
intended to achieve the final liquidation of the principle of divinity. Paris rose to place the King under the
rule of the people and to prevent him from restoring an authority of principle. The corpse which the rebels
of 1830 dragged through the rooms of the Tuileries and installed on the throne in order to pay it derisory
homage has no other significance. The king could still be, at that period, a respected minister, but his
authority is now derived from the nation, and his guiding principle is the Charter. He is no longer
Majesty. Now that the ancien regime had definitely disappeared in France, the new regime must again,
after 1848, reaffirm itself, and the history of the nineteenth century up to 1914 is the history of the
restoration of popular sovereignties against ancien regime monarchies; in other words, the history of the
principle of nations. This principle finally triumphs in 1919, which witnesses the disappearance of all
absolutist monarchies in Europe.3 Everywhere, the sovereignty of the nation is substituted, in law and in
fact,
3 With the exception of the Spanish monarchy. But the German Empire collapsed, of which Wilhelm II
said that it was "the proof that we Hohenzollerns derive our crown from heaven alone and that it is to
heaven alone that we must give an accounting."
for the sovereign king. Only then can the consequences of the principles of 1789 be seen. We survivors are the first
to be able to judge them clearly.
The Jacobins reinforced the eternal moral principles to the extent to which they suppressed the things which, up to
then, had supported these principles. As preachers of a gospel, they wanted to base fraternity on the abstract law of
the Romans. They substituted the law for divine commandments on the supposition that it must be recognized by all
because it was the expression of the general will. The law found its justification in natural virtue and then proceeded
to justify natural virtue. But immediately a single faction manifests itself, this reasoning collapses and we perceive
that virtue has need of justification in order not to be abstract. In the same way, the bourgeois jurists of the
eighteenth century, by burying under the weight of their principles the just and vital conquests of their people,
prepared the way for the two contemporary forms of nihilism: individual nihilism and State nihilism.
Law can reign, in fact, in so far as it is the law of universal reason.4 But it never is, and it loses its justification if
man is not naturally good. A day comes when ideology conflicts with psychology. Then there is no more legitimate
power. Thus the law evolves to the point of becoming confused with the legislator and with a new form of
arbitrariness. Where turn then? The law has gone completely off its course; and, losing its precision, it becomes
more and more inaccurate, to the point of making everything a crime. The law still reigns supreme, but it no longer
has any fixed limits. Saint-Just had foreseen that this form of tyranny might be exercised in the name of a silent
people. "Ingenious crime will be exalted into a kind of religion and criminals will be in the sacred hierarchy." But
this is inevitable. If major principles have no foundation, if the law expresses nothing but a provisional inclination, it
is only made in order to be broken or to be imposed. Sade or dictatorship, individual terrorism or State terrorism,
both justified by the same absence of justification, are, from the moment that rebellion cuts itself off from its roots
* Hegel saw clearly that the philosophy of enlightenment wanted to deliver man from the irrational. Reason reunites
mankind while the irrational destroys unity.
and abstains from any concrete morality, one of the alternatives of the twentieth century.
The revolutionary movement that was born in 1789 could not, however, stop there. God, for the Jacobins,
is not completely dead, any more than He was dead for the romantics. They still preserve the Supreme
Being. Reason, in a certain way, is still a mediator. It implies a pre-existent order. But God is at least
dematerialized and reduced to the theoretical existence of a moral principle. The bourgeoisie succeeded in
reigning during the entire nineteenth century only by referring itself to abstract principles. Less worthy
than Saint-Just, it simply made use of this frame of reference as an alibi, while employing, on all
occasions, the opposite values. By its essential corruption and disheartening hypocrisy, it helped to
discredit, for good and all, the principles it proclaimed. Its culpability in this regard is infinite. From the
moment that eternal principles are put in doubt simultaneously with formal virtue, and when every value
is discredited, reason will start to act without reference to anything but its own successes. It would like to
rule, denying everything that has been and affirming all that is to come. One day it will conquer. Russian
Communism, by its violent criticism of every kind of formal virtue, puts the finishing touches to the
revolutionary work of the nineteenth century by denying any superior principle. The regicides of the
nineteenth century are succeeded by the deicides of the twentieth century, who draw the ultimate
conclusions from the logic of rebellion and want to make the earth a kingdom where man is God. The
reign of history begins and, identifying himself only with his history, man, unfaithful to his real rebellion,
will henceforth devote himself to the nihilistic revolution of the twentieth century, which denies all forms
of morality and desperately attempts to achieve the unity of the human race by means of a ruinous series
of crimes and wars. The Jacobin Revolution, which tried to institute the religion of virtue in order to
establish unity upon it, will be followed by the cynical revolutions, which can be either of the right or of
the left and which will try to achieve the unity of the world so as to found, at last, the religion of man. All
that was God's will henceforth be rendered to Caesar.

The Deicides
Justice, reason, truth still shone in the Jacobin heaven, performing the function of fixed stars, which
could, at least, serve as guides. German nineteenth-century thinkers, particularly Hegel, wanted to
continue the work of the French Revolution1 while suppressing the causes of its failure. Hegel thought
that he discerned the seeds of the Terror contained in the abstract principles of the Jacobins. According to
him, absolute and abstract freedom must inevitably lead to terrorism; the rule of abstract law is identical
with the rule of oppression. For example, Hegel remarks that the period between the time of Augustus and
Alexander Severus (a.d. 235) is the period of the greatest legal proficiency but also the period of the most
ruthless tyranny. To avoid this contradiction, it was therefore necessary to wish to construct a concrete
society, invigorated by a principle that was not formal and in which freedom could be reconciled with
necessity. German philosophy therefore finished by substituting, for the universal but abstract reason of
Saint-Just and Rousseau, a less artificial but more ambiguous idea: concrete universal reason. Up to this
point, reason had soared above the phenomena which were related to it. Now reason is, henceforth,
incorporated in the stream of historical events, which it explains while deriving its substance from them.
It can certainly be said that Hegel rationalized to the point of being irrational. But, at the same time, he
gave reason an unreasonable shock by endowing it with a lack of moderation, the results of which are
now before our
1And of the Reformation—"the Germans' Revolution," according to Hegel.
eyes. Into the fixed ideas of this period, German thought suddenly introduced an irresistible urge to
movement. Truth, reason, and justice were abruptly incarnated in the progress of the world. But by
committing them to perpetual acceleration, German ideology confused their existence with their impulse
and fixed the conclusion of this existence at the final stage of the historical future— if there was to be
one. These values have ceased to be guides in order to become goals. As for the means of attaining these
goals, specifically life and history, no pre-existent value can point the way. On the contrary, a large part
of Hegelian demonstration is devoted to proving that moral conscience, by being so banal as to obey
justice and truth, as though these values existed independently of the world, jeopardizes, precisely for this
reason, the advent of these values. The rule of action has thus become action itself—which must be
performed in darkness while awaiting the final illumination. Reason, annexed by this form of
romanticism, is nothing more than an inflexible passion. The ends have remained the same, only ambition
has increased; thought has become dynamic, reason has embraced the future and aspired to conquest.
Action is no more than a calculation based on results, not on principles. Consequently it confounds itself
with perpetual movement. In the same way, all the disciplines that characterized eighteenth-century
thought as rigid and addicted to classification were abandoned in the nineteenth century. Just as Darwin
replaced Linnaeus, the philosophers who supported the doctrine of an incessant dialectic replaced the
harmonious and strict constructors of reason. From this moment dates the idea (hostile to every concept of
ancient thought, which, on the contrary, reappeared to a certain extent in the mind of revolutionary
France) that man has not been endowed with a definitive human nature, that he is not a finished creation
but an experiment, of which he can be partly the creator. With Napoleon and the Napoleonic philosopher
Hegel, the period of efficacy begins. Before Napoleon, men had discovered space and the universe; with
Napoleon, they discovered time and the future in terms of this world; and by this discovery the spirit of
rebellion is going to be profoundly transformed.
In any case, it is strange to find Hegel's philosophy at this new stage in the development of the spirit of
rebellion. Actually, in one sense, his work exudes an absolute horror of dissidence: he wanted to be the
very essence of reconciliation. But this is only one aspect of a system which, by its very method, is the
most ambiguous in all philosophic literature. To the extent that, for him, what is real is rational, he
justifies every ideological encroachment upon reality. What has been called Hegel's panlogism is a
justification of the condition of fact. But his philosophy also exalts destruction for its own sake.
Everything is reconciled, of course, in the dialectic, and one extreme cannot be stated without the other
arising; there exists in Hegel, as in all great thinkers, the material for contradicting Hegel. Philosophers,
however, are rarely read with the head alone, but often with the heart and all its passions, which can
accept no kind of reconciliation.
Nevertheless, the revolutionaries of the twentieth century have borrowed from Hegel the weapons with
which they definitively destroyed the formal principles of virtue. All that they have preserved is the vision
of a history without any kind of transcendence, dedicated to perpetual strife and to the struggle of wills
bent on seizing power. In its critical aspect, the revolutionary movement of our times is primarily a
violent denunciation of the formal hypocrisy that presides over bourgeois society. The partially justified
pretension of modern Communism, like the more frivolous claim of Fascism, is to denounce the
mystification that undermines the principles and virtues of the bourgeois type of democracy. Divine
transcendence, up to 1789, served to justify the arbitrary actions of the king. After the French Revolution,
the transcendence of the formal principles of reason or justice serves to justify a rule that is neither just
nor reasonable. This transcendence is therefore a mask that must be torn off. God is dead, but as Stirner
predicted, the morality of principles in which the memory of God is still preserved must also be killed.
The hatred of formal virtue—degraded witness to divinity and false witness in the service of injustice—
has remained one of the principal themes of history today. Nothing is pure: that is the cry which
convulses our period. Impurity, the equivalent of history, is going to become the rule, and the
abandoned earth will be delivered to naked force, which will decide whether or not man is divine. Thus
lies and violence are adopted in the same spirit in which a religion is adopted and on the same
heartrending impulse.
But the first fundamental criticism of the good conscience—the denunciation of the beautiful soul and oi
ineffectual attitudes—we owe to Hegel, for whom the ideology of the good, the true, and the beautiful is
the religion of those possessed of none of them. While the mere existence of factions surprises Saint-Just
and contravenes the ideal order that he affirms, Hegel not only is not surprised, but even affirms that
faction is the prelude to thought. For the Jacobin, everyone is virtuous. The movement which starts with
Hegel, and which is triumphant today, presumes, on the contrary, that no one is virtuous, but that
everyone will be. At the beginning, everything, according to Saint-Just, is an idyl; according to Hegel,
everything is a tragedy. But in the end that amounts to the same thing. Those who destroy the idyl must
be destroyed or destruction must be embarked on in order to create the idyl. Violence, in both cases, is the
victor. The repudiation of the Terror, undertaken by Hegel, only leads to an extension of the Terror.
That is not all. Apparently the world today can no longer be anything other than a world of masters and
slaves because contemporary ideologies, those that are changing the face of the earth, have learned from
Hegel to conceive of history in terms of the dialectic of master and slave. If, on the first morning of the
world, under the empty sky, there is only a master and a slave; even if there is only the bond of master
and slave between a transcendent god and mankind, then there can be no other law in this world than the
law of force. Only a god, or a principle above the master and the slave, could intervene and make men's
history something more than a mere chronicle of their victories and defeats. First Hegel and then the
Hegelians have tried, on the contrary, to destroy, more and more thoroughly, all idea of transcendence and
any nostalgia for transcendence. Although there was infinitely more in Hegel than in the left-wing
Hegelians who finally have triumphed over him, he nevertheless furnished, on the level of the dialectic of
master and slave,
the decisive justification of the spirit of power in the twentieth century. The conqueror is always right; that is one of
the lessons which can be learned from the most important German philosophical system of the nineteenth century.
Of course, there is to be found, in the prodigious Hegelian edifice, a means of partially contradicting those ideas. But
twentieth-century ideology is not connected with what is improperly called the idealism of the master of Jena.
Hegel's face, which reappears in Russian Communism, has been successively remodeled by David Strauss, Bruno
Bauer, Feuerbach, Marx, and the entire Hegelian left wing. We are only interested in him here because he alone has
any real bearing on the history of our time. If Nietzsche and Hegel serve as alibis to the masters of Dachau and
Karaganda,2 that does not condemn their entire philosophy. But it does lead to the suspicion that one aspect of their
thought, or of their logic, can lead to these appalling conclusions.
Nietzschean nihilism is methodical. The Phenomenology of the Mind also has a didactic aspect. At the meeting-point
of two centuries, it depicts, in its successive stages, the education of the mind as it pursues its way toward absolute
truth. It is a metaphysical Emile.3 Each stage is an error and is, moreover, accompanied by historic sanctions which
are almost always fatal, either to the mind or to the civilization in which it is reflected. Hegel proposes to
demonstrate the necessity of these painful stages. The Phenomenology is, in one aspect, a meditation on despair and
death. The mission of despair is, simply, to be methodical in that it must be transfigured, at the end of history, into
absolute satisfaction and absolute wisdom. The book has the defect, however, of only imagining highly intelligent
pupils and it has been taken literally, while, literally, it only wanted to proclaim the spirit.
2 They found less philosophic models in the Prussian, Napoleonic, and Czarist police and in the British concentration
camps in South Africa.
3 In one sense there is a ground of comparison between Hegel and Rousseau. The fortune of the Phenomenology has
been, in its consequences, of the same kind as that of the Social Contract. It shaped the political thought of its time.
Rousseau's theory of the general will, besides, recurs in the Hegelian system.
It is the same with the celebrated analysis of mastery and slavery.
Animals, according to Hegel, have an immediate knowledge of the exterior world, a perception of the
self, but not the knowledge of self, which distinguishes man. The latter is only really born at the moment
when he becomes aware of himself as a rational being. Therefore his essential characteristic is selfconsciousness.
Consciousness of self, to be affirmed, must distinguish itself from what it is not. Man is a
creature who, to affirm his existence and his difference, denies. What distinguishes consciousness of self
from the world of nature is not the simple act of contemplation by which it identifies itself with the
exterior world and finds oblivion, but the desire it can feel with regard to the world. This desire reestablishes
its identity when it demonstrates that the exterior world is something apart. In its desire, the
exterior world consists of what it does not possess, but which nevertheless exists, and of what it would
like to exist but which no longer does. Consciousness of self is therefore, of necessity, desire. But in order
to exist it must be satisfied, and it can only be satisfied by the gratification of its desire. It therefore acts in
order to gratify itself and, in so doing, it denies and suppresses its means of gratification. It is the epitome
of negation. To act is to destroy in order to give birth to the spiritual reality of consciousness. But to
destroy an object unconsciously, as meat is destroyed, for example, in the act of eating, is a purely animal
activity. To consume is not yet to be conscious. Desire for consciousness must be directed toward
something other than unconscious nature. The only thing in the world that is distinct from nature is,
precisely, self-consciousness. Therefore desire must be centered upon another form of desire; selfconsciousness
must be gratified by another form of self-consciousness. In simple words, man is not
recognized—and does not recognize himself—as a man as long as he limits himself to subsisting like an
animal. He must be acknowledged by other men. All consciousness is, basically, the desire to be
recognized and proclaimed as such by other consciousnesses. It is others who beget us. Only in
association do we receive a human value, as distinct from an animal value.
In that the supreme value for the animal is the preservation of life, consciousness should raise itself above
the level of that instinct in order to achieve human value. It should be capable of risking its life. To be
recognized by another consciousness, man should be ready to risk his life and to accept the chance of
death. Fundamental human relations are thus relations of pure prestige, a perpetual struggle, to the death,
for recognition of one human being by another.
At the first stage of his dialectic, Hegel affirms that in so far as death is the common ground of man and
animal, it is by accepting death and even by inviting it that the former differentiates himself from the
latter. At the heart of this primordial struggle for recognition, man is thus identified with violent death.
The mystic slogan "Die and become what you are" is taken up once more by Hegel. But "Become what
you are" gives place to "Become what you so far are not." This primitive and passionate desire for
recognition, which is confused with the will to exist, can be satisfied only by a recognition gradually
extended until it embraces everyone. In that everyone wants equally much to be recognized by everyone,
the fight for life will cease only with the recognition of all by all, which will mark the termination of
history. The existence that Hegelian consciousness seeks to obtain is born in the hard-won glory of
collective approval. It is not beside the point to note that, in the thought which will inspire our
revolutions, the supreme good does not, in reality, coincide with existence, but with an arbitrary facsimile.
The entire history of mankind is, in any case, nothing but a prolonged fight to the death for the conquest
of universal prestige and absolute power. It is, in its essence, imperialist. We are far from the gentle
savage of the eighteenth century and from the Social Contract. In the sound and fury of the passing
centuries, each separate consciousness, to ensure its own existence, must henceforth desire the death of
others. Moreover, this relentless tragedy is absurd, since, in the event of one consciousness being
destroyed, the victorious consciousness is not recognized as such, in that it cannot be victorious in the
eyes of something that no longer exists. In fact, it is here the philosophy of appearances reaches its limits.
No human reality would therefore have been engendered if, thanks to a propensity that can be considered"
fortunate for Hegel's system, there had not existed, from the beginning of time, two kinds of
consciousness, one of which has not the courage to renounce life and is therefore willing to recognize the
other kind of consciousness without being recognized itself in return. It consents, in short, to being
considered as an object. This type of consciousness, which, to preserve its animal existence, renounces
independent life, is the consciousness of a slave. The type of consciousness which by being recognized
achieves independence is that of the master. They are distinguished one from the other at the moment
when they clash and when one submits to the other. The dilemma at this stage is not to be free or to die,
but to kill or to enslave. This dilemma will resound throughout the course of history, though at this
moment its absurdity has not yet been resolved.
Undoubtedly the master enjoys total freedom first as regards the slave, since the latter recognizes him
totally, and then as regards the natural world, since by his work the slave transforms it into objects of
enjoyment which the master consumes in a perpetual affirmation of his own identity. However, this
autonomy is not absolute. The master, to his misfortune, is recognized in his autonomy by a
consciousness that he himself does not recognize as autonomous. Therefore he cannot be satisfied and his
autonomy is only negative. Mastery is a blind alley. Since, moreover, he cannot renounce mastery and
become a slave again, the eternal destiny of masters is to live unsatisfied or to be killed. The master
serves no other purpose in history than to arouse servile consciousness, the only form of consciousness
that really creates history. The slave, in fact, is not bound to his condition, but wants to change it. Thus,
unlike his master, he can improve himself, and what is called history is nothing but the effects of his long
efforts to obtain real freedom. Already, by work, by his transformation of the natural world into a
technical world, he manages to escape from the nature which was the basis of his slavery in that he did
not know how to raise himself above it by accepting death.4 The very agony
of death experienced in the humiliation of the entire being lifts the slave to the level of human totality. He
knows, henceforth, that this totality exists; now it only remains for him to conquer it through a long series
of struggles against nature and against the masters. History identifies itself, therefore, with the history of
endeavor and rebellion. It is hardly astonishing that Marxism-Leninism derived from this dialectic the
contemporary ideal of the soldier worker.
We shall leave aside the description of the various attitudes of the servile consciousness (stoicism,
skepticism, guilty conscience) which then follows in the Phenomenology. But, thanks to its consequences,
another aspect of this dialectic cannot be neglected: namely, the assimilation of the master-slave
relationship to the relationship between man and God. One of Hegel's commentators5 remarks that if the
master really existed, he would be God. Hegel himself calls the Master of the world the real God. In his
description of guilty conscience he shows how the Christian slave, wishing to deny everything that
oppresses him, takes refuge in the world beyond and by doing so gives himself a new master in the person
of God. Elsewhere Hegel identifies the supreme master with absolute death. And so the struggle begins
again, on a higher level, between man in chains and the cruel God of Abraham. The solution to this new
conflict between the universal God and the human entity will be furnished by Christ, who reconciles in
Himself the universal and the unique. But, in one sense, Christ is a part of the palpable world. He is
visible, He lived and He died. He is therefore only a stage on the road to the universal; He too must be
denied dialectically. It is only necessary to recognize Him as the man-God to obtain a higher synthesis.
Skipping the intermediary stages, it suffices to say that this synthesis, after being incarnated in the Church
and in Reason, culminates in the absolute State, founded by the soldier workers,
4Actually, the ambiguity is profound, for the nature in question is not the same. Does the advent of the
technical world suppress death or the fear of death in the natural world? That is the real question, which
Hegel leaves in suspense.
5Jean Hyppolite.
where the spirit of the world will be finally reflected in the mutual recognition of each by all and in the universal
reconciliation of everything that has ever existed under the sun. At this moment, "when the eyes of the spirit
coincide with the eyes of the body," each individual consciousness will be nothing more than a mirror reflecting
another mirror, itself reflected to infinity in infinitely recurring images. The City of God will coincide with the city
of humanity; and universal history, sitting in judgment on the world, will pass its sentence by which good and evil
will be justified. The State will play the part of Destiny and will proclaim its approval of every aspect of reality on
"the sacred day of the Presence."
This sums up the essential ideas which in spite, or because, of the extreme ambiguity of their interpretation, have
literally driven the revolutionary mind in apparently contradictory directions and which we are now learning to
rediscover in the ideology of our times. Amorality, scientific materialism, and atheism have definitely replaced the
anti-theism of the rebels of former times and have made common cause, under Hegel's paradoxical influence, with a
revolutionary movement which, until his time, was never really separated from its moral, evangelical, and idealistic
origins. These tendencies, if they are sometimes very far from really originating with Hegel, found their source in
the ambiguity of his thought and in his critique of transcendence. Hegel's undeniable originality lies in his definitive
destruction of all vertical transcendence—particularly the transcendence of principles. There is no doubt that he
restores the immanence of the spirit to the evolution of the world. But this immanence is not precisely defined and
has nothing in common with the pantheism of the ancients. The spirit is and is not part of the world; it creates itself
and will finally prevail. Values are thus only to be found at the end of history. Until then there is no suitable
criterion on which to base a judgment of value. One must act and live in terms of the future. All morality becomes
provisional. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries, in their most profound manifestations, are centuries that have
tried to live without transcendence.
One of Hegel's commentators, Alexandre Kojeve, of
left-wing tendencies it is true, but orthodox in his opinion on this particular point, notes Hegel's hostility
to the moralists and remarks that his only axiom is to live according to the manners and customs of one's
nation. A maxim of social conformity of which Hegel, in fact, gave the most cynical proofs. Kojeve adds,
however, that this conformity is legitimate only to the extent that the customs of the nation correspond to
the spirit of the times—in other words, to the extent that they are solidly established and can resist
revolutionary criticism and attacks. But who will determine their solidity and who will judge their
validity? For a hundred years the capitalist regimes of the West have withstood violent assaults. Should
they for that reason be considered legitimate? Inversely, should those who were faithful to the Weimar
Republic have abandoned it and pledged themselves to Hitler in 1933 because the former collapsed when
attacked by the latter? Should the Spanish Republic have been betrayed at the exact moment when
General Franco's forces triumphed? These are conclusions that traditional reactionary thought would have
justified within its own perspectives. The novelty, of which the consequences are incalculable, lies in the
fact that revolutionary thought has assimilated them. The suppression of every moral value and of all
principles and their replacement by fact, as provisional but actual king, could only lead, as we have
plainly seen, to political cynicism, whether it be fact as envisioned by the individual or, more serious still,
fact as envisioned by the State. The political movements, or ideologies, inspired by Hegel are all united in
the ostensible abandonment of virtue.
Hegel could not, in fact, prevent those who had read him, with feelings of anguish which were far from
methodical in a Europe that was already torn asunder by injustice, from finding themselves precipitated
into a world without innocence and without principles—into the very world of which Hegel says that it is
in itself a sin, since it is separated from the spirit. Hegel, of course, permits the forgiveness of sins at the
end of history. Until then, however, every human activity is sinful. "Therefore only the absence of activity
is innocent, the existence of a stone and not even the existence of a child." Thus even the
innocence of stones is unknown to us. Without innocence there are no human relations and no reason. Without
reason, there is nothing but naked force, the master and slave waiting for reason one day to prevail. Between master
and slave, even suffering is solitary, joy is without foundation, and both are undeserved. Then how can one live,
how endure life when friendship is reserved for the end of time? The only escape is to create order with the use of
weapons. "Kill or enslave!"—those who have read Hegel with this single and terrible purpose have really considered
only the first part of the dilemma. From it they have derived a philosophy of scorn and despair and have deemed
themselves slaves and nothing but slaves, bound by death to the absolute Master and by the whip to their terrestrial
masters. This philosophy of the guilty conscience has merely taught them that every slave is enslaved only by his
own consent, and can be liberated only by an act of protest which coincides with death. Answering the challenge,
the most courageous among them have completely identified themselves with this act of protest and have dedicated
themselves to death. After all, to say that negation is in itself a positive act justified in advance every kind of
negation and predicted the cry of Bakunin and Nechaiev: "Our mission is to destroy, not to construct." A nihilist for
Hegel was only a skeptic who had no other escape but contradiction or philosophic suicide. But he himself gave
birth to another type of nihilist, who, making boredom into a principle of action, identified suicide with philosophic
murder.6 It was at this point that the terrorists were born who decided that it was necessary to kill and die in order to
exist, because mankind and history could achieve their creation only by sacrifice and murder. The magnificent idea
that all idealism is chimerical if it is not paid for by risking one's life was to be developed to the fullest possible
extent by young men who were not engaged in expounding the concept from the safe distance of a university chair
before dying in their beds, but among the tumult of falling bombs and even
6 This form of nihilism, despite appearances, is still nihilism in the Nietzschean sense, to the extent that it is a
calumny of the present life to the advantage of a historical future in which one tries to believe.
on the gallows. By doing this and even by their errors they corrected their master and demonstrated, contrary to his
teaching, that one kind of aristocracy, at least, is superior to the hideous aristocracy of success exalted by Hegel: the
aristocracy of sacrifice.
Another sort of follower, who read Hegel more seriously, chose the second term of the dilemma and made the
pronouncement that the slave could only free himself by enslaving in his turn. Post-Hegelian doctrines, unmindful of
the mystic aspect or certain of the master's tendencies, have led his followers to absolute atheism and to scientific
materialism. But this evolution is inconceivable without the absolute disappearance of every principle of
transcendent explanation, and without the complete destruction of the Jacobin ideal. Immanence, of course, is not
atheism. But immanence in the process of development is, if one can say so, provisional atheism.7 The indefinite
face of God which, with Hegel, is still reflected in the spirit of the world will not be difficult to efface. Hegel's
successors will draw decisive conclusions from his ambiguous formula: "God without man is no more than man
without God." David Strauss in his Life of Jesus isolates the theory of Christ considered as the God-man. Bruno
Bauer (The Critique of Evangelist History) institutes a kind of materialist Christianity by insisting on the humanity
of Jesus. Finally, Ludwig Feuerbach (whom Marx considered as a great mind and of whom he acknowledges
himself the critical disciple), in his Essence of Christianity, replaces all theology by a religion of man and the
species, which has converted a large part of contemporary thought. His task is to demonstrate that the distinction
between human and divine is illusory, that it is nothing but the distinction between the essence of humanity—in
other words, human nature—and the individual. "The mystery of God is only the mystery of the love of man for
himself." The accents of a strange new prophecy ring out: "Individuality has replaced faith, reason the Bible, politics
religion and the Church, the earth heaven, work
7 In any event, the criticism of Kierkegaard is valid. To base divinity on history is, paradoxically, to base an absolute
value on approximate knowledge. Something "eternally historic" is a contradiction in terms.
prayer, poverty hell, and man Christ." Thus there is only one hell and it is on this earth: and it is against
this that the struggle must be waged. Politics is religion, and transcendent Christianity—that of the
hereafter—establishes the masters of the earth by means of the slave's renunciation and creates one master
more beneath the heavens. That is why atheism and the revolutionary spirit are only two aspects of the
same movement of liberation. That is the answer to the question which is always being asked: why has
the revolutionary movement identified itself with materialism rather than with idealism? Because to
conquer God, to make Him a slave, amounts to abolishing the transcendence that kept the former masters
in power and to preparing, with the ascendancy of the new tyrants, the advent of the man-king. When
poverty is abolished, when the contradictions of history are resolved, "the real god, the human god, will
be the State." Then homo homini lupus becomes homo homini deus. This concept is at the root of the
contemporary world. With Feuerbach, we assist at the birth of a terrible form of optimism which we can
still observe at work today and which seems to be the very antithesis of nihilist despair. But that is only in
appearance. We must know Feuerbach's final conclusions in this Theogony to perceive the profoundly
nihilist derivation of his inflamed imagination. In effect, Feuerbach affirms, in the face of Hegel, that man
is only what he eats, and thus recapitulates his ideas and predicts the future in the following phrase: "The
true philosophy is the negation of philosophy. No religion is my religion. No philosophy is my
philosophy."
Cynicism, the deification of history and of matter, individual terror and State crime, these are the
inordinate consequences that will now spring, armed to the teeth, from the equivocal conception of a
world that entrusts to history alone the task of producing both values and truth. If nothing can be clearly
understood before truth has been brought to light, at the end of time, then every action is arbitrary, and
force will finally rule supreme. "If reality is inconceivable," Hegel exclaims, "then we must contrive
inconceivable concepts." A concept that cannot be conceived must, perforce, like error, be contrived. But
to be accepted it cannot rely on the persuasion innate in order and
truth, but must finally be imposed. Hegel's attitude consists of saying: "This is truth, which appears to us,
however, to be error, but which is true precisely because it happens to be error. As for proof, it is not I,
but history, at its conclusion, that will furnish it." Such pretensions can only entail two attitudes: either the
suspension of all affirmation until the production of proof, or the affirmation of everything, in history,
which seems dedicated to success —force in particular. And both attitudes imply nihilism. Moreover, it is
impossible to understand twentieth-century revolutionary thought if we overlook the fact that
unfortunately it derived a large part of its inspiration from a philosophy of conformity and opportunism.
True rebellion is not jeopardized on account of the distortion of these particular ideas.
Nevertheless, the basis of Hegel's claims is what renders them intellectually and forever suspect. He
believed that history in 1807, with the advent of Napoleon and of himself, had come to an end, and that
affirmation was possible and nihilism conquered. The Phenomenology, the Bible that was to have
prophesied only the past, put a limit on time. In 1807 all sins were forgiven, and time had stopped. But
history has continued. Other sins, since then, have been hurled in the face of the world and have revived
the scandal of the former crimes, which the German philosopher had already forgiven forever. The
deification of Hegel by himself, after the deification of Napoleon, who would henceforth be innocent
since he had succeeded in stabilizing history, lasted only seven years. Instead of total affirmation, nihilism
once more covered the face of the earth. Philosophy, even servile philosophy, has its Waterloos.
But nothing can discourage the appetite for divinity in the heart of man. Others have come and are still to
come who, forgetting Waterloo, still claim to terminate history. The divinity of man is still on the march,
and will be worthy of adoration only at the end of time. This apocalypse must be promoted and, despite
the fact that there is no God, at least a Church must be built. After all, history, which has not yet come to
an end, allows us a glimpse of a perspective that might even be that of the Hegelian system but for the
simple reason that it is provisionally
dragged along, if not led, by the spiritual heirs of Hegel. When cholera carries off the
philosopher of the Battle of Jena at the height of his glory, everything is, in fact, in order for what is to
follow. The sky is empty, the earth delivered into the hands of power without principles. Those who have
chosen to kill and those who have chosen to enslave will successively occupy the front of the stage, in the
name of a form of rebellion which has been diverted from the path of truth.

Individual Terrorism
Pisarev, the theoretician of Russian nihilism, declares that the greatest fanatics
are children and adolescents. That is also true of nations. Russia, at this period, is an adolescent nation,
delivered with forceps, barely a century ago, by a Czar who was still ingenuous enough to cut off the
heads of rebels himself. It is not astonishing that she should have pushed Germanic ideology to extremes
of sacrifice and destruction which German professors had only been capable of theorizing about. Stendhal
noticed an essential difference between Germans and other people in the fact that they are excited by
meditation rather than soothed. That is true, but it is even more true of Russia. In that immature country,
completely without philosophic tradition,1 some very young people, akin to Lautreamont's tragic fellow
students, enthusiastically embraced the concepts of German thought and incarnated the consequences in
blood. A "proletariat of undergraduates" 2 then took the lead in the great movement of human
emancipation and gave it its most violent aspect. Until the end of the nineteenth century these
undergraduates never numbered more than a few thousand. Entirely on their own, however, and in
defiance of the most integrated absolutism of the time, they aspired to liberate and provisionally did
contribute to the liberation of forty million muzhiks. Almost all of them paid for this liberation by suicide,
execution, prison, or madness. The entire history of Russian terrorism can be summed up in the struggle
of a handful of intellectuals to
1 Pisarev remarks that civilization, in its ideological aspects, has always been imported into Russia. 2
Dostoievsky.
abolish tyranny, against a background of a silent populace. Their debilitated victory was finally betrayed.
But by their sacrifice and even by their most extreme negations they gave substance to a new standard of
values, a new virtue, which even today has not ceased to oppose tyranny and to give aid to the cause of
true liberation.
The Germanization of nineteenth-century Russia is not an isolated phenomenon. The influence of German
ideology at that moment was preponderant, and we are well aware, for example, that the nineteenth
century in France, with Michelet and Quinet, is the century of Germanic thought. But in Russia this
ideology did not encounter an already established system, while in France it had to contend and
compromise with libertarian socialism. In Russia it was on conquered territory. The first Russian
university, the University of Moscow, founded in 1750, is German. The slow colonization of Russia by
German teachers, bureaucrats, and soldiers, which began under Peter the Great, was transformed at the
instance of Nicholas I into systematic Germanization. The intelligentsia developed a passion for Schelling
(simultaneously with their passion for French writers) in the 1830's, for Hegel in the 1840's, and in the
second half of the century for German socialism derived from Hegel.3 Russian youth then proceeded to
pour into these abstract thoughts the inordinate violence of its passions and authentically experienced
these already moribund ideas. The religion of man already formulated by its German pastors was still
missing its apostles and martyrs. Russian Christians, led astray from their original vocation, played this
role. For this reason they had to accept life without transcendence and without virtue.

The Renunciation of Virtue
In the 1820's among the first Russian revolutionaries, the Decembrists, virtue still existed. Jacobin
idealism had not yet been uprooted from the hearts of these gentlemen. They even practiced conscious
virtue: "Our fathers were
3 Das Kapital was translated in 1872.
sybarites, we are Catos," said one of them, Peter Viazem-sky. To this is only added the opinion, which
will still be found in Bakunin and the revolutionary socialists of 1905, that suffering regenerates. The
Decembrists remind us of the French nobles who allied themselves with the third estate and renounced
their privileges. Patrician idealists, they deliberately chose to sacrifice themselves for the liberation of the
people. Despite the fact that their leader, Pestel, was a political and social theorist, their abortive
conspiracy had no fixed program; it is not even sure that they believed in the possibility of success. "Yes,
we shall die," one of them said on the eve of the insurrection, "but it will be a fine death." It was, in fact, a
fine death. In December 1825 the rebels, arranged in formation, were mown down by cannon fire in the
square in front of the Senate at St. Petersburg. The survivors were deported, but not before five had been
hanged, and so clumsily that it had to be done twice. It is easy to understand why these ostensibly
inefficacious victims have been venerated, with feelings of exaltation and horror, by all of revolutionary
Russia. They were exemplary, if not efficacious. They indicated, at the beginning of this chapter of
revolutionary history, the ambitions and the greatness of what Hegel ironically called the beautiful soul in
relation to which Russian revolutionary ideas were, nevertheless, to be defined.
In this atmosphere of exaltation, German thought came to combat French influence and impose its
prestige on minds torn between their desire for vengeance and justice and the realization of their own
impotent isolation. It was first received, extolled, and commented upon as though it were revelation itself.
The best minds were inflamed with a passion for philosophy. They even went so far as to put Hegel's
Logic into verse. For the most part, Russian intellectuals at first inferred, from the Hegelian system, the
justification of a form of social quietism. To be aware of the rationality of the world sufficed; the Spirit
would realize itself, in any case, at the end of time. That is the first reaction of Stankevich,4 Bakunin, and
Bielin-sky, for example. Then the Russian mind recoiled at this
4 "The world is ordered by the spirit of reason, this reassures me about everything else."
factual, if not intentional, complicity with absolutism and, immediately, jumped to the opposite extreme.
Nothing is more revealing, in this respect, than the evolution of Bielinsky, one of the most remarkable and most
influential minds of the 1830's and 40's. Beginning with a background of rather vague libertarian idealism, Bielinsky
suddenly discovers Hegel. In his room, at midnight, under the shock of revelation, he bursts into tears like Pascal
and suddenly becomes a new man. "Neither chance nor the absolute exists, I have made my adieux to the French."
At the same time he is still a conservative and a partisan of social quietism. He writes to that effect without a single
hesitation and defends his position, as he perceives it, courageously. But this essentially kindhearted man then sees
himself allied with what is most detestable in this world: injustice. If everything is logical, then everything is
justified. One must consent to the whip, to serfdom, to Siberia. To accept the world and its sufferings seemed to him,
at one moment, the noble thing to do because he imagined that he would only have to bear his own sufferings and
his own contradictions. But if it also implied consent to the sufferings of others, he suddenly discovered that he had
not the heart to continue. He set out again in the opposite direction. If one cannot accept the suffering of others, then
something in the world cannot be justified, and history, at one point at least, no longer coincides with reason. But
history must be completely reasonable or it is not reasonable at all. This man's solitary protest, quieted for a moment
by the idea that everything can be justified, bursts forth again in vehement terms. Bielinsky addresses Hegel himself:
"With all the esteem due to your philistine philosophy, I have the honor to inform you that even if I had the
opportunity of climbing to the very top of the ladder of evolution, I should still ask you to account for all the victims
of life and history. I do not want happiness, even gratuitous happiness, if my mind is not at rest concerning all my
blood brothers."
Bielinsky understood that what he wanted was not the absolute of reason but the fullness of life. He refuses to
identify them. He wants the immortality of the entire man, clothed in his living body, not the abstract immortality
of the species become Spirit. He argues with equal passion against new adversaries, and draws, from
this fierce interior debate, conclusions that he owes to Hegel, but which he turns against him.
These are the conclusions of individualism in revolt. The individual cannot accept history as it is. He must
destroy reality, not collaborate with it, in order to affirm his own existence. "Negation is my god, as
reality formerly was. My heroes are the destroyers of the past: Luther, Voltaire, the Encyclopedists, the
Terrorists, Byron in Cain." Thus we rediscover here, simultaneously, all the themes of metaphysical
rebellion. Certainly, the French tradition of individualistic socialism always remained alive in Russia.
Saint-Simon and Fourier, who were read in the 1830's, and Proudhon, who was imported in the forties,
inspired the great concepts of Herzen, and, very much later, those of Pierre Lavrov. But this system,
which remained attached to ethical values, finally succumbed, provisionally at any rate, during its great
debate with cynical thought. On the other hand, Bielinsky rediscovers both with and against Hegel the
same tendencies to social individualism, but under the aspect of negation, in the rejection of
transcendental values. When he dies, in 1848, his thought will moreover be very close to that of Herzen.
But when he confronts Hegel, he defines, with precision, an attitude that will be adopted by the nihilists,
and at least in part by the terrorists. Thus he furnishes a type of transition between the idealist aristocrats
of 1825 and the "noth-ingist" students of 1860.

Three of the Possessed
When Herzen, in making his apology for the nihilist movement—only to the extent, it is true, that he sees
in it a still greater emancipation from ready-made ideas— writes: "The annihilation of the past is the
procreation of the future," he is using the language of Bielinsky. Koteiarevsky, speaking of the so-called
radicals of the period, defined them as apostles "who thought that the past must be completely renounced
and the human personality must be constructed to quite another plan."
Stirner's claim reappears with the total rejection of history and the determination to construct the future,
no longer with regard to the historical spirit, but so as to coincide with the man-king. But the man-king
cannot raise himself to power unaided. He has need of others and therefore enters into a nihilist
contradiction which Pisarev, Bakunin, and Nechaiev will try to resolve by slightly extending the area of
destruction and negation, to the point where terrorism finally kills the contradiction itself, in a
simultaneous act of sacrifice and murder.
The nihilism of the 1860's began, apparently, with the most radical negation imaginable: the rejection of
any action that was not purely egoistic. We know that the very term nihilism was invented by Turgeniev
in his novel Fathers and Sons, whose hero, Bazarov, was an exact portrayal of this type of man. Pisarev,
when he wrote a criticism of this book, proclaimed that the nihilists recognized Bazarov as their model.
"We have nothing," said Bazarov, "to boast about but the sterile knowledge of understanding, up to a
certain point, the sterility of what exists." "Is that," he was asked, "what is called nihilism?" "Yes, that is
what is called nihilism." Pisarev praises Bazarov's attitude, which for the sake of clarity he defines thus:
"I am a stranger to the order of existing things, I have nothing to do with it." Thus the only value resides
in rational egoism.
In denying everything that is not satisfaction of the self, Pisarev declares war on philosophy, on art, which
he considers absurd, on erroneous ethics, on religion, and even on customs and on good manners. He
constructs a theory of intellectual terrorism which makes one think of the present-day surrealists.
Provocation is made into a doctrine, but on a level of which Raskolnikov provides the perfect example. At
the height of this fine transport, Pisarev asks himself, without even laughing, whether he is justified in
killing his own mother and answers: "And why not, if I want to do so, and if I find it useful?"
From that point on, it is surprising not to find the nihilists engaged in making a fortune or acquiring a title
or in cynically taking advantage of every opportunity that offers itself. It is true that there were nihilists to
be found in advantageous positions on all levels of society. But they
did not construct a theory from their cynicism and preferred on all occasions to pay visible and quite
inconsequential homage to virtue. As for those we are discussing, they contradicted themselves by the
defiance they hurled in the face of society, which in itself was the affirmation of a value. They called
themselves materialists; their bedside book was Buchner's Force and Matter. But one of them confessed:
"Every one of us was ready to go to the scaffold and to give his head for Moleschott and Darwin," thus
putting doctrine well ahead of matter. Doctrine, taken seriously to this degree, has an air of religion and
fanaticism. For Pisarev, Lamarck was a traitor because Darwin was right. Whoever in this intellectual
sphere began talking about the immortality of the soul was immediately excommunicated. Vladimir
Veidle is therefore right when he defines nihilism as rationalist obscurantism. Reason among the nihilists,
strangely enough, annexed the prejudices of faith; choosing the most popularized forms of scienceworship
for their prototype of reason was not the least of the contradictions accepted by these
individualists. They denied everything but the most debatable of values, the values of Flaubert's Monsieur
Homais. However, it was by choosing to make reason, in its most limited aspect, into an act of faith that
the nihilists provided their successors with a model. They believed in nothing but reason and self-interest.
But instead of skepticism, they chose to propagate a doctrine and became socialists. Therein lies their
basic contradiction. Like all adolescent minds they simultaneously experienced doubt and the need to
believe. Their personal solution consists in endowing their negation with the intransigence and passion of
faith. What, after all, is astonishing about that? Veidle quotes the scornful phrase used by Soloviev, the
philosopher, in denouncing this contradiction: "Man is descended from monkeys, therefore let us love one
another." Pisarev's truth, however, is to be found in this dilemma. If man is the image of God, then it does
not matter that he is deprived of human love; the day will come when he will be satiated with it. But if he
is a blind creature, wandering in the darkness of a cruel and circumscribed condition, he has need of his
equals and of their ephemeral love. Where can charity take refuge, after all,
if not in the world without God? In the other, grace provides for all, even for the rich. Those who deny
everything at least understand that negation is a calamity. They can then open their hearts to the misery of
others and finally deny themselves. Pisarev did not shrink from the idea of murdering his mother, and yet
he managed to find the exact words to describe injustice. He wanted to enjoy life egoistically, but he
suffered imprisonment and finally went mad. Such an ostentatious display of cynicism finally led him to
an understanding of love, to be exiled from it and to suffer from it to the point of suicide, thus revealing,
in place of the man-god he wanted to create, the unhappy, suffering old man whose greatness illuminates
the pages of history.
Bakunin embodies, but in a manner spectacular in a different way, the very same contradictions. He died
on the eve of the terrorist epic, in 1876. Moreover, he rejected in advance individual outrages and
denounced "the Brutuses of the period." He had a certain respect for them, however, since he reproached
Herzen for having openly criticized Karakosov for his abortive attempt to assassinate Alexander II in
1866. This feeling of respect had its reasons. Bakunin influenced the course of events in the same manner
as Bielinsky and the nihilists and directed them into the channel of individual revolt. But he contributed
something more: a germ of political cynicism, which will congeal, with Nechaiev, into a doctrine and will
drive the revolutionary movement to extremes.
Bakunin had hardly emerged from adolescence when he was overwhelmed and uprooted by Hegelian
philosophy, as if by a gigantic earthquake. He buries himself in it day and night "to the point of madness,"
he says, and adds: "I saw absolutely nothing but Hegel's categories."When he emerges from this
initiation, it is with the exaltation of a neophyte. "My personal self is dead forever, my life is the true life.
It is in some way identified with the absolute life." He required very little time to see the dangers of that
comfortable position. He who has understood reality does not rebel against it, but rejoices in it; in other
words, he becomes a conformist. Nothing in Bakunin's character predestined him to that watchdog
philosophy. It is possible, also, that his travels in Germany,
and the unfortunate opinion he formed of the Germans, may have ill-prepared him to agree with the aged Hegel that
the Prussian State was the privileged depositary of the final fruits of the mind. More Russian than the Czar himself,
despite his dreams of universality, he could in no event subscribe to the apology of Prussia when it was founded on a
logic brash enough to assert: "The will of other peoples has no rights, for it is the people who represent the will [of
the Spirit] who dominate the world." In the 1840's, moreover, Bakunin discovered French socialism and anarchism,
from which he appropriated a few tendencies. Bakunin rejects, with a magnificent gesture, any part of German
ideology. He approached the absolute in the same way as he approached total destruction, with the same passionate
emotion, and with the blind enthusiasm for the "All or Nothing" which we again find in him in its purest form.
After having extolled absolute Unity, Bakunin enthusiastically embraces the most elementary form of Manichaeism.
What he wants, of course, is once and for all "the universal and authentically democratic Church of
Freedom." That is his religion; he belongs to his times. It is not sure, however, that his faith on this point had been
perfect. In his Confession to Czar Nicholas I, he seems to be sincere when he says that he has never been able to
believe in the final revolution "except with a supernatural and painful effort to stifle forcibly the interior voice which
whispered to me that my hopes were absurd." His theory of immorality, on the other hand, is much more firmly
based and he is often to be seen plunging about in it with the ease and pleasure of a mettlesome horse. History is
governed by only two principles: the State and social revolution, revolution and counterrevolution, which can never
be reconciled, and which are engaged in a death struggle. The State is the incarnation of crime. "The smallest and
most inoffensive State is still criminal in its dreams." Therefore revolution is the incarnation of good. This struggle,
which surpasses politics, is also the struggle of Luciferian principles against the divine principle. Bakunin explicitly
reintroduces into rebellious action one of the themes of romantic rebellion. Proudhon had already decreed that God
is Evil and exclaimed: "Come, Satan,
victim of the calumnies of kings and of the petty-minded!" Bakunin also gives a glimpse of the broader implications
of an apparently political rebellion: "Evil is satanic rebellion against divine authority, a rebellion in which we see,
never-' theless, the fruitful seed of every form of human emancipation." Like the Fraticelli of fourteenth-century
Bohemia, revolutionary socialists today use this phrase as a password: "In the name of him to whom a great wrong
has been done."
The struggle against creation will therefore be without mercy and without ethics, and the only salvation lies in
extermination. "The passion for destruction is a creative passion." Bakunin's burning words on the subject of the
revolution of 1848 in his Confession vehemently proclaim this pleasure in destruction. "A feast without beginning
and without end," he says. In fact, for him as for all who are oppressed, the revolution is a feast, in the religious
sense of the word. Here we are reminded of the French anarchist Caeurderoy, who, in his book Hurrah, or the
Cossack Revolution, summoned the hordes of the north to lay waste to the whole world. He also wanted to "apply
the torch to my father's house" and proclaimed that the only hope lay in the human deluge and in chaos. Rebellion is
grasped, throughout these manifestations, in its pure state, in its biological truth. That is why Bakunin with
exceptional perspicacity was the only one of his period to declare war on science, the idol of his contemporaries.
Against every abstract idea he pleaded the cause of the complete man, completely identified with his rebellion. If he
glorifies the brigand leader of the peasant rising, if he chooses to model himself on Stenka Razin and Pugachev, it is
because these men fought, without either doctrine or principle, for an ideal of pure freedom. Bakunin introduces into
the midst of revolution the naked principle of rebellion. "The tempest and life, that is what we need. A new world,
without laws, and consequently free."
But is a world without laws a free world? That is the question posed by every rebellion. If the question were to be
asked of Bakunin, the answer would not be in doubt. Despite the fact that he was opposed in all circumstances, and
with the most extreme lucidity, to authoritarian socialism,
yet from the moment when he himself begins to define the society of the future, he does so—
without being at all concerned about the contradiction—in terms of a dictatorship. The statutes of the
International Fraternity (1864-7), which he edited himself, already establish the absolute subordination of
the individual to the central committee, during the period of action. It is the same for the period that will
follow the revolution. He hopes to see in liberated Russia "a strong dictatorial power ... a power supported
by partisans, enlightened by their advice, fortified by their free collaboration, but which would be limited
by nothing and by no one." Bakunin contributed as much as his enemy Marx to Leninist doctrine. The
dream of the revolutionary Slav empire, moreover, as Bakunin conjures it up before the Czar, is exactly
the same, down to the last detail of its frontiers, as that realized by Stalin. Coming from a man who was
wise enough to say that the essential driving-force of Czarist Russia was fear and who rejected the
Marxist theory of party dictatorship, these conceptions may seem contradictory. But this contradiction
demonstrates that the origins of authoritarian doctrines are partially nihilistic. Pisarev justifies Bakunin.
Certainly, the latter wanted total freedom; but he hoped to realize it through total destruction. To destroy
everything is to pledge oneself to building without foundations, and then to holding up the walls with
one's hands. He who rejects the entire past, without keeping any part of it which could serve to breathe
life into the revolution, condemns himself to finding justification only in the future and, in the meantime,
to entrusting the police with the task of justifying the provisional state of affairs. Bakunin proclaims
dictatorship, not despite his desire for destruction, but in accordance with it. Nothing, in fact, could turn
him from this path since his ethical values had also been dissolved in the crucible of total negation. In his
openly obsequious Confession to the Czar, which he wrote in order to gain his freedom, he spectacularly
introduces the double game into revolutionary politics. With his Catechism of a Revolutionary, which he
probably drafted in Switzerland, with the help of Nechaiev, he voices, even though he denies it later, the
political cynicism
that will never cease to weigh on the revolutionary movement and which Nechaiev himself has so
provocatively illustrated.
A less well-known figure than Bakunin, still more mysterious, but more significant for our purpose,
Nechaiev pushed nihilism to the farthest coherent point. His thought presents practically no contradiction.
He appeared, about 1866, in revolutionary intellectual circles, and died, obscurely, in January 1882. In
this short space of time he never ceased to suborn the students around him, Bakunin himself, the
revolutionary refugees, and finally the guards in his prison, whom he succeeded in persuading to take part
in a crazy conspiracy. When he first appears, he is already quite sure of what he thinks. If Bakunin was
fascinated by him to the point of consenting to entrust him with imaginary authority, it is because he
recognized in that implacable figure the type of human being that he recommended and what he himself,
in a certain manner, would have been if he had been able to silence his heart. Nechaiev was not content
with saying that one must unite with "the savage world of bandits, the true and unique revolutionary
environment of Russia," nor with writing once more, like Bakunin, that henceforth politics would be
religion and religion politics. He made himself the cruel high priest of a desperate revolution; his most
recurrent dream was to found a homicidal order that would permit him to propagate and finally enthrone
the sinister divinity that he had decided to serve.
He not only gave dissertations on universal destruction; his originality lay in coldly claiming, for those
who dedicate themselves to the revolution, an "Everything is permitted" and in actually permitting
himself everything. "The revolutionary is a man condemned in advance. He must have neither romantic
relationships nor objects to engage his feelings. He should even cast off his own name. Every part of him
should be concentrated in one single passion: the revolution." If history is, in fact, independent of all
principles and composed only of a struggle between revolution and counterrevolution, there is no way out
but to espouse wholeheartedly one of the two and either die or be resurrected. Nechaiev pursues this logic
to the bitter
end. With him, for the first time, revolution is going to be explicitly separated from love and friendship.
The consequences of arbitrary psychology set in motion by Hegel's method can be seen, for the first time, in
Nechaiev. Hegel had allowed that the mutual recognition of minds could be accomplished in love.5 He would not,
however, give a place in the foreground of his analysis to this "phenomenon," which, according to him, he found
"had not the strength, the patience, nor the application of the negative." He had chosen to demonstrate human minds
in blind combat, dimly groping on the sands, like crabs that finally come to grips in a fight to the death, and
voluntarily abandoned the equally legitimate image of beams of light painfully searching for one another in the night
and finally focusing together in a blaze of illumination. Those who love, friends or lovers, know that love is not only
a blinding flash, but also a long and painful struggle in the darkness for the realization of definitive recognition and
reconciliation. After all, if virtue in the course of history is recognized by the extent to which it gives proof of
patience, real love is as patient as hatred. Moreover, the demand for justice is not the only justification throughout
the centuries for revolutionary passion, which is sustained by a painful insistence on universal friendship, even—and
above all—in defiance of an inimical heaven. Those who die for justice, throughout history, have always been called
"brothers." Violence, for every one of them, is directed only against the enemy, in the service of the community of
the oppressed. But if the revolution is the only positive value, it has a right to claim everything—even the
denunciation and therefore the sacrifice of the friend. Henceforth, violence will be directed against one and all, in
the service of an abstract idea. The accession to power of the possessed had to take place so that it could be said,
once and for all, that the revolution, in itself, was more important than the people it wanted to save, and that
friendship, which until then had transformed defeats into the semblance of victories, must be
5 It could also be brought about by the kind of admiration in which the word master assumes its fullest meaning: he
who creates without destroying.
sacrificed and postponed until the still invisible day of victory.
Nechaiev's originality thus lies in justifying the violence done to one's brothers. He decided, with
Bakunin, on the terms of the Catechism. But once the latter, in a fit of mental aberration, had given him
the mission of representing in Russia a European Revolutionary Union, which existed only in his
imagination, Nechaiev in effect came to Russia, founded his Society of the Ax, and himself defined its
regulations. There we find again the secret central committee, necessary no doubt to any military or
political action, to whom everyone must swear absolute allegiance. But Nechaiev does more than
militarize the revolution from the moment when he admits that the leaders, in order to govern their
subordinates, have the right to employ violence and lies. Nechaiev lies, to begin with, when he claims to
be a delegate of a central committee that is still nonexistent and when, to enlist certain skeptics in the
action that he proposes to undertake, he describes the committee as disposing of unlimited resources. He
goes still farther by distinguishing between categories of revolutionaries, with those of the first category
(by which he means the leaders) reserving the right to consider the rest as "expendable capital." All the
leaders in history may have thought in these terms, but they never said so. Until Nechaiev, at any rate, no
revolutionary leader had dared to make this the guiding principle of his conduct. Up to his time no
revolution had put at the head of its table of laws the concept that man could be a chattel. Traditionally,
recruiting relied on its appeal to courage and to the spirit of self-sacrifice. Nechaiev decided that the
skeptics could be terrorized or blackmailed and the believers deceived. Even pseudo-revolutionaries could
still be used, if they were urged on systematically to perform the most dangerous deeds. As for the
oppressed, since they were going to be saved once and for all, they could be oppressed still more. What
they would lose, the oppressed of the future would gain. Nechaiev states, in principle, that governments
must be driven to take repressive measures, that the official representatives most hated by the population
must never be touched, and that finally the secret society
must employ all its resources to increase the suffering and misery of the masses.
Although these beautiful thoughts have realized their full meaning today, Nechaiev did not live to see the
triumph of his principles. He tried to apply them, at all events, at the time of the student Ivanov's murder,
which so struck the popular imagination of the time that Dostoievsky made it one of the themes of The
Possessed. Ivanov, whose only fault seems to have been that he had doubts about the central committee of
which Nechaiev claimed to be a delegate, was considered an enemy of the revolution because he was
opposed to the man who was identified with the revolution. Therefore he must die. "What right have we
to take a man's life?" asks Uspen-sky, one of Nechaiev's comrades.—"It is not a question of right, but of
our duty to eliminate everything that may harm our cause." When revolution is the sole value, there are, in
fact, no more rights, there are only duties. But by an immediate inversion, every right is assumed in the
name of duty. For the sake of the cause, Nechaiev, who has never made an attempt on the life of any
tyrant, ambushes and kills Ivanov. Then he leaves Russia and returns to Bakunin, who turns his back on
him and condemns his "repugnant tactics." "He has gradually come," writes Bakunin, "to the conclusion
that to found an indestructible society it must be based on the politics of Machiavelli and the methods of
the Jesuits: for the body, only violence; for the soul, deception." That is well said. But in the name of
what value is it possible to decide that this tactic is repugnant if the revolution, as Bakunin believed, is the
only good? Nechaiev is really in the service of the revolution; it is not his own ends that he serves, but the
cause. Extradited, he yields not an inch to his judges. Condemned to twenty-five years in jail, he still
reigns over the prisons, organizes the jailers into a secret society, plans the assassination of the Czar, and
is again brought up for trial. Death in the dungeon of a fortress, after twelve years' confinement, brings an
end to the life of this rebel who is the first of the contemptuous aristocrats of the revolution.
At this period, in the bosom of the revolution, everything
is really permitted and murder can be elevated into a principle. It was thought, however, with the
renewal of Populism in 1870, that this revolutionary movement, sprung from the ethical and religious
tendencies to be found in the Decembrists, and in the socialism of Lavrov and Herzen, would put a check
on the evolution toward political cynicism that Nechaiev had illustrated. This movement appealed to
"living souls," prompted them to turn to the people and educate them so that they would march forward to
their own liberation. "Repentant noblemen" left their families, dressed like the poor, and went into the
villages to preach to the peasants. But the peasants were suspicious and held their peace. When they did
not hold their peace, they denounced the apostle to the police. This check to the noble souls had the result
of throwing back the movement on the cynicism of a Nechaiev or, at any rate, on violence. In so far as the
intelligentsia was unable to reclaim the allegiance of the people, it felt itself once more alone, face to face
with autocracy; once more the world appeared to it in the aspect of master and slave. The group known as
the People's Will was then to elevate individual terrorism into a principle and inaugurate the series of
murders which continued until 1905 with the Socialist Revolutionary Party. This is the point at which the
terrorists were born, disillusioned with love, united against the crimes of their masters, but alone in their
despair, and face to face with their contradictions, which they could resolve only in the double sacrifice of
their innocence and their life.

The Fastidious Assassins
In the year 1878 Russian terrorism was born. A very young girl, Vera Zassulich, on the day following the
trial of one hundred and eighty-three Populists, the 24th of January, shot down General Trepov, the
Governor of St. Petersburg. At her trial she was acquitted and then succeeded in escaping the police of the
Czar. This revolver-shot unleashed a whole series of repressive actions and attempted assassinations,
which kept pace with one another and which, it was already evident, could only be terminated by mutual
exhaustion.
The same year a member of the People's Will Party, Kravchinsky, stated the principles of terror in his
pamphlet Death for Death. Consequences always follow principles. In Europe, attempts were made on the
lives of the Emperor of Germany, the King of Italy, and the King of Spain. Again in 1878 Alexander II
created, in the shape of the Okhrana, the most efficient weapon of State terrorism the world has ever seen.
From then on, the nineteenth century abounds in murders, both in Russia and in the West. In 1879 there is
a new attack on the King of Spain and an abortive attempt on the life of the Czar. In 1881 the Czar is
murdered by terrorist members of the People's Will. Sofia Perovskaia, Jeliabov, and their friends are
hanged. In 1883 takes place the attempt on the life of the Emperor of Germany, whose assailant is
beheaded with an ax. In 1887 there are the executions of the Chicago martyrs and the congress of Spanish
anarchists at Valencia, where they issue the terrorist proclamation: "If society does not capitulate, vice
and evil must perish, even if we must all perish with them." In France the 1890's mark the culminatingpoint
of what is called propaganda by action. The exploits of Ravachol, Vaillant, and Henry are the
prelude to Carnot's assassination. In the year 189Z alone there are more than a thousand dynamite
outrages in Europe, and in America almost five hundred. In 1898 the Empress Elisabeth of Austria is
murdered. In 1901 the President of the United States, McKinley, is assassinated. In Russia, where the
series of attempts against the lives of minor representatives of the regime had not ceased, the
Organization for Combat of the Socialist Revolutionary Party comes into being in 1903 and unites the
most outstanding personalities of Russian terrorism. The murders of Plehve by Sazonov and of the Grand
Duke Sergei by Kaliayev, in 1905, mark the culminating-point of the thirty years' apostolate of blood and
terminate, for revolutionary religion, the age of martyrs.
Nihilism, intimately involved with a frustrated religious movement, thus culminates in terrorism. In the
universe of total negation, these young disciples try, with bombs, and revolvers and also with the courage
with which they walk to the gallows, to escape from contradiction and to create the values they lack. Until
their time, men died
for what they knew, or for what they thought they knew. From their time on, it became the rather more difficult
habit to sacrifice oneself for something about which one knew nothing, except that it was necessary to die so that it
might exist. Until then, those who had to die put themselves in the hand of God in defiance of the justice of man.
But on reading the declarations of the condemned victims of that period, we are amazed to see that all, without
exception, entrusted themselves, in defiance of their judges, to the justice of other men who were not yet born. These
men of the future remained, in the absence of supreme values, their last recourse. The future is the only
transcendental value for men without God. The terrorists no doubt wanted first of all to destroy—to make
absolutism totter under the shock of exploding bombs. But by their death, at any rate, they aimed at re-creating a
community founded on love and justice, and thus to resume a mission that the Church had betrayed. The terrorists'
real mission is to create a Church from whence will one day spring the new God. But is that all? If their voluntary
assumption of guilt and death gave rise to nothing but the promise of a value still to come, the history of the world
today would justify us in saying, for the moment at any rate, that they have died in vain and that they never have
ceased to be nihilists. A value to come is, moreover, a contradiction in terms, since it can neither explain an action
nor furnish a principle of choice as long as it has not been formulated. But the men of 1905, tortured by
contradictions, really did give birth, by their very negation and death, to a value that will henceforth be imperative,
which they brought to light in the belief that they were only announcing its advent. They ostensibly placed, above
themselves and their executioners, that supreme and painful good which we have already found at the origins of
rebellion. Let us stop and consider this value, at the moment when the spirit of rebellion encounters, for the last time
in our history, the spirit of compassion.
"How can we speak of terrorist activity without taking part in it?" exclaims the student Kaliayev. His companions,
united ever since 1903, in the Organization for Combat of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, under the direction of
Aze and later of Boris Savinkov, all live up
to the standard of this admirable statement. They are men of the highest principles: the last, in the history
of rebellion, to refuse no part of their condition or their drama. If their lives were dedicated to the terror,
"if they had faith in it," as Pokotilov says, they never ceased to be torn asunder by it. History offers few
examples of fanatics who have suffered from scruples, even in action. But the men of 1905 were always
prey to doubts. The greatest homage we can pay them is to say that we would not be able, in 1950, to ask
them one question that they themselves had not already asked and that, in their life or by their death, they
had not partially answered.
They quickly passed into the realms of history, however. When Kaliayev, for example, in 1903, decided
to take part with Savinkov in terrorist activity, he was twenty-six years old. Two years later the "Poet," as
he was called, was hanged. It was a short career. But to anyone who examines with a little feeling the
history of that period, Kaliayev, in his breathtaking career, displays the most significant aspect of
terrorism. Sazonov, Schweitzer, Pokotilov, Voinarovsky, and most of the other anarchists likewise burst
upon the scene of Russian history and poised there for a moment, dedicated to destruction, as the swift
and unforgettable witnesses to an increasingly agonized protest.
Almost all are atheists. "I remember," wrote Boris Voinarovsky, who died in throwing a bomb at Admiral
Dubassov, "that even before going to high school I preached atheism to one of my childhood friends.
Only one question embarrassed me. Where did my ideas come from? For I had not the least conception of
eternity." Kaliayev himself believed in God. A few moments before an attempted assassination, which
failed, Savinkov saw him in the street, standing in front of an ikon, holding the bomb in one hand and
making the sign of the cross with the other. But he repudiated religion. In his cell, before his execution, he
refused its consolations.
The need for secrecy compelled them to live in solitude. They did not know, except perhaps in the
abstract, the profound joy experienced by the man of action in contact with a large section of humanity.
But the bond that united them replaced every other attachment in their
minds. "Chivalry!" writes Sazonov, and comments on it thus: "Our chivalry was permeated with such a
degree of feeling that the word brother in no way conveyed with sufficient clarity the essence of our
relations with one another." From prison Sazonov writes to his friends: "For my part, the indispensable
condition of happiness is to keep forever the knowledge of my perfect solidarity with you." As for
Voinarovsky, he confesses that to a woman he loved who wished to detain him he made the following
remark, which he recognizes as "slightly comic" but which, according to him, proves his state of mind: "I
should curse you if I arrived late for my comrades."
This little group of men and women, lost among the Russian masses, bound only to one another, chose the
role of executioner, to which they were in no way destined. They lived in the same paradox, combining in
themselves respect for human life in general and contempt for their own lives—to the point of nostalgia
for the supreme sacrifice. For Dora Brilliant, the anarchist program was of no importance; terrorist action
was primarily embellished by the sacrifice it demanded from the terrorist. "But," says Savinkov, "terror
weighed on her like a cross." Kaliayev himself is ready to sacrifice his life at any moment. "Even better
than that, he passionately desired to make this sacrifice." During the preparations for the attempt on
Plehve, he stated his intention of throwing himself under the horses' hoofs and perishing with the
Minister. With Voinarovsky also the desire for sacrifice coincides with the attraction of death. After his
arrest he writes to his parents: "How many times during my adolescence the idea came to me to kill
myself! . . ."
At the same time, these executioners who risked their own lives so completely, made attempts on the lives
of others only after the most scrupulous examination of conscience. The first attempt on the Grand Duke
Sergei failed because Kaliayev, with the full approval of his comrades, refused to kill the children who
were riding in the Grand Duke's carriage. Of Rachel Louriee, another terrorist, Savinkov writes: "She had
faith in terrorist action, she considered it an honor and a duty to take part in it, but blood upset her no less
than it did Dora." The same Savinkov was opposed to an attempt on Admiral Dubassov in the
Petersburg-Moscow express because "if there were the least mistake, the explosion could take place in the
car and kill strangers." Later Savinkov, "in the name of terrorist conscience," will deny with indignation
having made a child of sixteen take part in an attempted assassination. At the moment of escaping from a
Czarist prison, he decides to shoot any officers who might attempt to prevent his flight, but to kill himself
rather than turn his revolver on an ordinary soldier. It is the same with Voinarovsky, who does not
hesitate to kill men, but who confesses that he has never hunted, "finding the occupation barbarous," and
who declares in his turn: "If Dubassov is accompanied by his wife, I shall not throw the bomb."
Such a degree of self-abnegation, accompanied by such profound consideration for the lives of others,
allows the supposition that these fastidious assassins lived out the rebel destiny in its most contradictory
form. It is possible to believe that they too, while recognizing the inevitability of violence, nevertheless
admitted to themselves that it is unjustifiable. Necessary and inexcusable—that is how murder appeared
to them. Mediocre minds, confronted with this terrible problem, can take refuge by ignoring one of the
terms of the dilemma. They are content, in the name of formal principles, to find all direct violence
inexcusable and then to sanction that diffuse form of violence which takes place on the scale of world
history. Or they will console themselves, in the name of history, with the thought that violence is
necessary, and will add murder to murder, to the point of making of history nothing but a continuous
violation of everything in man which protests against injustice. This defines the two aspects of
contemporary nihilism, the bourgeois and the revolutionary.
But the extremists, with whom we are concerned, forgot nothing. From their earliest days they were
incapable of justifying what they nevertheless found necessary, and conceived the idea of offering
themselves as a justification and of replying by personal sacrifice to the question they asked themselves.
For them, as for all rebels before them, murder is identified with suicide. A life is paid for by another life,
and from these two sacrifices springs the promise of a value. Kaliayev, Voinarovsky, and the others
believe in the equal value of human lives.
Therefore they do not value any idea above human life, though they kill for the sake of ideas. To be
precise, they live on the plane of their idea. They justify it, finally, by incarnating it to the point of death.
We are again confronted with a concept of rebellion which, if not religious, is at least metaphysical. Other
men to come, consumed with the same devouring faith as these, will find their methods sentimental and
refuse to admit that any one life is the equivalent of any other. They will then put an abstract idea above
human life, even if they call it history, to which they themselves have submitted in advance and to which
they will also decide, quite arbitrarily, to submit everyone else. The problem of rebellion will no longer be
resolved by arithmetic, but by estimating probabilities. Confronted with the possibility that the idea may
be realized in the future, human life can be everything or nothing. The greater the faith that the estimator
places in this final realization, the less the value of human life. At the ultimate limit, it is no longer worth
anything at all.
We shall have occasion to examine this limit—that is, the period of State terrorism and of the
philosophical executioners. But meanwhile the rebels of 1905, at the frontier on which they stand united,
teach us, to the sound of exploding bombs, that rebellion cannot lead, without ceasing to be rebellion, to
consolation and to the comforts of dogma. Their only evident victory is to triumph at least over solitude
and negation. In the midst of a world which they deny and which rejects them, they try, man after man,
like all the great-hearted ones, to reconstruct a brotherhood of man. The love they bear for one another,
which brings them happiness even in the desert of a prison, which extends to the great mass of their
enslaved and silent fellow men, gives the measure of their distress and of their hopes. To serve this love,
they must first kill; to inaugurate the reign of innocence, they must accept a certain culpability. This
contradiction will be resolved for them only at the very last moment. Solitude and chivalry, renunciation
and hope will only be surmounted by the willing acceptance of death. Already Jeliabov, who organized
the attempt on Alexander II in
1881 and was arrested forty-eight hours before the murder, had asked to be executed at the same time as
the real perpetrator of the attempt. "Only the cowardice of the government," he said, "could account for
the erection of one gallows instead of two." Five were erected, one of which was for the woman he loved.
But Jeliabov died smiling, while Ryssakov, who had broken down during his interrogations, was dragged
to the scaffold, half-mad with fear. Jeliabov did this because of a sort of guilt which he did not want to
accept and from which he knew he would suffer, like Ryssakov, if he remained alone after having
committed or been the cause of a murder. At the foot of the gallows, Sofia Perovskaia kissed the man she
loved and her two other friends, but turned away from Ryssakov, who died solitary and damned by the
new religion. For Jeliabov, death in the midst of his comrades coincided with his justification. He who
kills is guilty only if he consents to go on living or if, to remain alive, he betrays his comrades. To die, on
the other hand, cancels out both the guilt and the crime itself. Thus Charlotte Corday shouts at Fouquier-
Tinville: "Oh, the monster, he takes me for an assassin!" It is the agonizing and fugitive discovery of a
human value that stands halfway between innocence and guilt, between reason and irrationality, between
history and eternity. At the moment of this discovery, but only then, these desperate people experience a
strange feeling of peace, the peace of definitive victory. In his cell, Poli-vanov says that it would have
been "easy and sweet" for him to die. Voinarovsky writes that he has conquered the fear of death.
"Without a single muscle in my face twitching, without saying a word, I shall climb on the scaffold. . . .
And this will not be an act of violence perpetrated on myself, it will be the perfectly natural result of all
that I have lived through." Very much later Lieutenant Schmidt wlil write before being shot: "My death
will consummate everything, and my cause, crowned by my death, will emerge irreproachable and
perfect." Kaliayev, condemned to the gallows after having stood as prosecutor before the tribunal,
declares firmly: "I consider my death as a supreme protest against a world of blood and tears," and again
write?; "From the moment when I found myself behind
bars, I never for one moment wanted to stay alive in any way whatsoever." His wish is granted. On
May 10, at two o'clock in the morning, he walks toward the only justification he recognizes. Entirely
dressed in black, without an overcoat, and wearing a felt hat, he climbs the scaffold. To Father Florinsky,
who offers him the crucifix, the condemned man, turning from the figure of Christ, only answers: "I have
already told you that I have finished with life and that I am prepared for death."
Yes, the ancient value lives once more, at the culmination of nihilism, at the very foot of the gallows. It is
the reflection, historic on this occasion, of the "we are" which we found at the termination of our analysis
of the rebel mind. It is privation and at the same time enlightened conviction. It is this that shone with
such mortal radiance on the agonized countenance of Dora Brilliant at the thought of him who died for
himself and for tireless friendship; it is this that drives Sazonov to suicide in prison as a protest and "to
earn respect for his comrades"; and this, again, which exonerates even Nechaiev on the day when he is
asked to denounce his comrades by a general, whom he knocks to the ground with a single blow. By
means of this, the terrorists, while simultaneously affirming the world of men, place themselves above
this world, thus demonstrating for the last time in our history that real rebellion is a creator of values.
Thanks to them, 1905 marks the highest peak of revolutionary momentum. But from then on, a decline
sets in. Martyrs do not build Churches; they are the mortar, or the alibi. Then come the priests and the
bigots. The revolutionaries who follow will not demand an exchange of lives. They accept the risk of
death, but will also agree to preserve themselves as far as they can for the sake of serving the revolution.
Thus they will accept complete culpability for themselves. Acquiescence in humiliation— that is the true
characteristic of twentieth-century revolutionaries, who place the revolution and the Church of man above
themselves. Kaliayev proves, on the contrary, that though the revolution is a necessary means, it is not a
sufficient end. In this way he elevates man instead of degrading him. It is Kaliayev and his Russian and
German
comrades who, in the history of the world, really oppose Hegel,6 who first recognizes universal
recognition as necessary and then as insufficient. Appearances did not suffice for him. When the whole
world would have been willing to recognize him, a doubt would still have remained in Kaliayev's mind:
he needed his own form of acquiescence, and the approbation of the whole world would not have sufficed
to silence the doubt that a hundred enthusiastic acclamations give rise to in the mind of any honest man.
Kaliayev doubted to the end, but this doubt did not prevent him from acting; it is for that reason that he is
the purest image of rebellion. He who accepts death, to pay for a life with a life, no matter what his
negations may be, affirms, by doing so, a value that surpasses him in his aspect of an individual in the
historical sense. Kaliayev dedicates himself to history until death and, at the moment of dying, places
himself above history. In a certain way, it is true, he prefers himself to history. But what should his
preference be? Himself, whom he kills without hesitation, or the value he incarnates and makes immortal?
The answer is not difficult to guess. Kaliayev and his comrades triumphed over nihilism.

The Path of Chigalev

But this triumph is to be short-lived: it coincides with death. Nihilism, provisionally, survives its victors.
In the very bosom of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, political cynicism continues to wend its way to
victory. The party leader who sends Kaliayev to his death, Azev, plays a double game and denounces the
revolutionaries to the Okhrana while planning the deaths of ministers and grand dukes. The concept of
provocation reinstates the "Everything is permitted," and again identifies history and absolute values. This
particular form of nihilism, after having influenced individualistic socialism, goes on to contaminate socalled
scientific socialism, which appears in Russia dur-
6 Two different species of men. One kills only once and pays with his life. The other justifies thousands of
crimes and consents to be rewarded with honors.
ing the 1880's.7 The joint legacy of Nechaiev and Marx will give birth to the totalitarian revolution of the
twentieth century. While individual terrorism hunted down the last representatives of divine right, State
terrorism was getting ready to destroy divine right definitively, at the very root of human society. The
technique of the seizure of power for the realization of ultimate ends takes the first step toward the
exemplary affirmation of these ends.
Lenin, in fact, borrows from Tkachev, a friend and spiritual brother of Nechaiev, a concept of the seizure
of power that he found "majestic" and that he himself recapitulated thus: "absolute secrecy, meticulous
care in the choice of members, creation of professional revolutionaries." Tkachev, who died insane,
makes the transition from nihilism to military socialism. He claimed to have created a Russian Jacobinism
and yet only borrowed from the Jacobins their technique of action, since he, too, denied every principle
and every virtue. An enemy of art and ethics, he reconciles the rational and the irrational only in tactics.
His aim is to achieve human equality by seizure of the power of the State. Secret organizations,
revolutionary alliances, dictatorial powers for revolutionary leaders—these were the themes that defined
the concept, if not the realization, of "the apparatus" which was to enjoy so great and efficacious a
success. As for the method itself, it is possible to form a fair idea of it when one learns that Tkachev
proposed to suppress and eliminate all Russians over the age of twenty-five as incapable of assimilating
the new ideas. A really inspired method, and one that was to prevail in the techniques of the modern
super-State, where the fanatical education of children is carried on in the midst of a terrorized adult
population. Caesarian socialism undoubtedly condemns individual terrorism to the extent that it revives
values incompatible with the domination of historic reason. But it will restore terror on the level of the
State—with the creation of an ulimately deified humanity as its sole justification.
We have come full circle here, and rebellion, cut off from its real roots, unfaithful to man in having
surrendered to history, now contemplates the subjection of the entire
7 The first Social Democratic group, Plekhanov's, began in 1883.
universe. It is at this point that the era of Chigalevism begins—proclaimed, in The Possessed, by Verkhovensky, the
nihilist who claims the right to choose dishonor. His is an unhappy and implacable mind 8 and he chooses the will to
power, which, in fact, alone is capable of reigning over a history that has no other significance but itself. Chigalev,
the philanthropist, is his guarantor; love of mankind will henceforth justify the enslavement of man. Possessed by
the idea of equality,9 Chigalev, after long consideration, arrived at the despairing conclusion that only one system is
possible even though it is a system of despair. "Beginning with the premise of unlimited freedom, I arrive at
unlimited despotism." Complete freedom, which is the negation of everything, can only exist and justify itself by the
creation of new values identified with the entire human race. If the creation of these values is postponed, humanity
will tear itself to peices. The shortest route to these new standards passes by way of total dictatorship. "One tenth of
humanity will have the right to individuality and will exercise unlimited authority over the other nine tenths. The
latter will lose their individuality and will become like a flock of sheep; compelled to passive obedience, they will
be led back to original innocence and, so to speak, to the primitive paradise, where, nevertheless, they must work." It
is the government by philosophers of which the Utopians dream; philosophers of this type, quite simply, believe in
nothing. The kingdom has come, but it negates real rebellion, and is only concerned with the reign of "the Christs of
violence," to use the expression of an enthusiastic writer extolling the life and death of Ravachol. "The pope on
high," says Verkhovensky bitterly, "with us around him, and beneath us Chigalevism."
The totalitarian theocrats of the twentieth century and State terrorism are thus announced. The new aristocracy and
the grand inquisitors reign today, by making use of the rebellion of the oppressed, over one part of our history. Their
reign is cruel, but they excuse their cruelty,
8 "He represented himself as man after his fashion, and then he gave up his idea."
9 "Slander and assassination in extreme cases, but especially equality."
like the Satan of the romantics, by claiming that it is hard for them to bear. "We reserve desire and
suffering for ourselves; for the slaves there is Chigalevism." A new and somewhat hideous race of
martyrs is now born. Their martyrdom consists in consenting to inflict suffering on others; they become
the slaves of their own domination. For man to become god, the victim must abase himself to the point of
becoming the executioner. That is why both victim and executioner are equally despairing. Neither
slavery nor power will any longer coincide with happiness; the masters will be morose and the slaves
sullen. Saint-Just was right: it is a terrible thing to torment the people. But how can one avoid tormenting
men if one has decided to make them gods? Just as Kirilov, who kills himself in order to become God,
accepts seeing his suicide made use of by Verkhovensky's "conspiracy," so man's deification by man
breaks the bounds which rebellion, nevertheless, reveals, and thereby irrevocably commits itself to the
labyrinth of tactics and terror from which history has not yet emerged.

State Terrorism and Irrational Terror
All modern revolutions have ended in a reinforcement of the power of the State. 1789 brings Napoleon;
1848, Napoleon III; 1917, Stalin; the Italian disturbances of the twenties, Mussolini; the Weimar
Republic, Hitler. These revolutions, particularly after the First World War had liquidated the vestiges of
divine right, still proposed, with increasing audacity, to build the city of humanity and of authentic
freedom. The growing omnipotence of the State sanctioned this ambition on each occasion. It would be
erroneous to say that this was bound to happen. But it is possible to examine how it did happen; and
perhaps the lesson will follow.
Apart from a few explanations that are not the subject of this essay, the strange and terrifying growth of
the modern State can be considered as the logical conclusion of inordinate technical and philosophical
ambitions, foreign to the true spirit of rebellion, but which nevertheless gave birth to the revolutionary
spirit of our time. The prophetic dream of Marx and the over-inspired predictions of Hegel or of
Nietzsche ended by conjuring up, after the city of God had been razed to the ground, a rational or
irrational State, which in both cases, however, was founded on terror.
In actual fact, the Fascist revolutions of the twentieth century do not merit the title of revolution. They
lacked the ambition of universality. Mussolini and Hitler, of course, tried to build an empire, and the
National Socialist ideologists were bent, explicitly, on world domination. But the difference between
them and the classic revolutionary movement is that, of the nihilist inheritance, they chose to deify the
irrational, and the irrational alone, instead
of deifying reason. In this way they renounced their claim to universality. And yet Mussolini makes
use of Hegel, and Hitler of Nietzsche; and both illustrate, historically, some of the prophecies of German
ideology. In this respect they belong to the history of rebellion and of nihilism. They were the first to
construct a State on the concept that everything is meaningless and that history is only written in terms of
the hazards of force. The consequences were not long in appearing.
As early as 1914 Mussolini proclaimed the "holy religion of anarchy," and declared himself the enemy of
every form of Christianity. As for Hitler, his professed religion unhesitatingly juxtaposed the God-
Providence and Valhalla. Actually his god was a political argument and a manner of reaching an
impressive climax at the end of his speeches. As long as he was successful, he chose to believe that he
was inspired. In the hour of defeat, he considered himself betrayed by his people. Between the two
nothing intervened to announce to the world that he would ever have been capable of thinking himself
guilty in relation to any principle. The only man of superior culture who gave Nazism an appearance of
being a philosophy, Ernst Junger, even went so far as to choose the actual formulas of nihilism: "The best
answer to the betrayal of life by the spirit is the betrayal of the spirit by the spirit, and one of the great and
cruel pleasures of our times is to participate in the work of destruction."
Men of action, when they are without faith, have never believed in anything but action. Hitler's untenable
paradox lay precisely in wanting to found a stable order on perpetual change and no negation.
Rauschning, in his Revolution of Nihilism, was right in saying that the Hitlerian revolution represented
unadulterated dynamism. In Germany, shaken to its foundations by a calamitous war, by defeat, and by
economic distress, values no longer existed. Although one must take into account what Goethe called "the
German destiny of making everything difficult," the epidemic of suicides that swept through the entire
country between the two wars indicates a great deal about the state of mental confusion. To those who
despair of everything, not reason but only passion can provide a
faith, and in this particular case it must be the same passion that lay at the root of the despair—namely,
humiliation and hatred. There was no longer any standard of values, both common to and superior to all
these men, in the name of which it would have been possible for them to judge one another. The Germany
of 1933 thus agreed to adopt the degraded values of a mere handful of men and tried to impose them on
an entire civilization. Deprived of the morality of Goethe, Germany chose, and submitted to, the ethics of
the gang.
Gangster morality is an inexhaustible round of triumph and revenge, defeat and resentment. When
Mussolini extolled "the elemental forces of the individual," he announced the exaltation of the dark
powers of blood and instinct, the biological justification of all the worst things produced by the instinct of
domination. At the Nuremberg trials, Frank emphasized "the hatred of form" which animated Hitler. It is
true that this man was nothing but an elemental force in motion, directed and rendered more effective by
calculated cunning and by a relentless tactical clairvoyance. Even his physical appearance, which was
thoroughly mediocre and commonplace, was no limitation: it established him firmly with the masses.
Action alone kept him alive. For him, to exist was to act. That is why Hitler and his regime could not
dispense with enemies. They could only define themselves, psycopathic dandies1 that they were, in
relation to their enemies, and only assume their final form in the bloody battle that was to be their
downfall. The Jews, the Freemasons, the plutocrats, the Anglo-Saxons, the bestial Slavs succeeded one
another in their propaganda and their history as a means of propping up, each time a little higher, the
blind force that was stumbling headlong toward its end. Perpetual strife demanded perpetual stimulants.
Hitler was history in its purest form. "Evolution," said Junger, "is far more important than living." Thus
he preached complete identification with the stream of life, on the lowest level and in defiance of all
superior reality. A regime which invented a biological foreign policy was obviously acting against its own
best interests. But at
1 It is well known that Goring sometimes entertained dressed as Nero and with his face made up.
least it obeyed its own particular logic. Rosenberg speaks pompously of life in the following terms: "Like
a column on the march, and it is of little importance toward what destination and for what ends this
column is marching." Though later the column will strew ruins over the pages of history and will
devastate its own country, it will at least have had the gratification of living. The real logic of this
dynamism was either total defeat or a progress from conquest to conquest and from enemy to enemy, until
the eventual establishment of the empire of blood and action. It is very unlikely that Hitler ever had any
conception, at least at the beginning, of this empire. Neither by culture nor even by instinct or tactical
intelligence was he equal to his destiny. Germany collapsed as a result of having engaged in a struggle for
empire with the concepts of provincial politics. But Junger had grasped the import of this logic and had
formulated it in definite terms. He had a vision of "a technological world empire," of a "religion of anti-
Christian technology," of which the faithful and the militants would have themselves been the priests
because (and here Junger rejoins Marx), on account of his human form, the worker is universal. "The
statutes of a new authoritarian regime take the place of a change in the social contract. The worker is
removed from the sphere of negotiation, from pity, and from literature and elevated to the sphere of
action. Legal obligations are transformed into military obligations." It can be seen that the empire is
simultaneously the factory and the barracks of the world, where Hegel's soldier worker reigns as a slave.
Hitler was halted relatively soon on the way to the realization of this empire. But even if he had gone still
farther, we should only have witnessed the more and more extensive deployment of an irresistible
dynamism and the increasingly violent enforcement of cynical principles which alone would be capable
of serving this dynamism. Speaking of such a revolution, Rauschning says that it has nothing to do with
liberation, justice, and inspiration: it is "the death of freedom, the triumph of violence, and the
enslavement of the mind." Fascism is an act of contempt, in fact. Inversely, every form of contempt, if it
intervenes in politics, prepares the way for, or establishes, Fascism. It must be added that Fascism cannot
be anything
else but an expression of contempt without denying itself. Junger drew the conclusion, from his own
principles, that it was better to be criminal than bourgeois. Hitler, who was endowed with less literary
talent but, on this occasion, with more coherence, knew that to be either one or the other was a matter of
complete indifference, from the moment that one ceased to believe in anything but success. Thus he
authorized himself to be both at the same time. "Fact is all," said Mussolini. And Hitler added: "When the
race is in danger of being oppressed . . . the question of legality plays only a secondary role." Moreover,
in that the race must always be menaced in order to exist, there is never any legality. "I am ready to sign
anything, to agree to anything. ... As far as I am concerned, I am capable, in complete good faith, of
signing treaties today and of dispassionately tearing them up tomorrow if the future of the German people
is at stake." Before he declared war, moreover, Hitler made the statement to his generals that no one was
going to ask the victor if he had told the truth or not. The leitmotiv of Goring's defense at the Nuremberg
trials returned time and again to this theme: "The victor will always be the judge, and the vanquished will
always be the accused." That is a point that can certainly be argued. But then it is hard to understand
Rosenberg when he said during the Nuremberg trials that he had not foreseen that the Nazi myth would
lead to murder. When the English prosecuting attorney observes that "from Mein Kampf the road led
straight to the gas chambers at Maidenek," he touches on the real subject of the trial, that of the historic
responsibilities of Western nihilism and the only one which, nevertheless, was not really discussed at
Nuremberg, for reasons only too evident. A trial cannot be conducted by announcing the general
culpability of a civilization. Only the actual deeds which, at least, stank in the nostrils of the entire world
were brought to judgment.
Hitler, in any case, invented the perpetual motion of conquest, without which he would have been nothing
at all. But the perpetual enemy is perpetual terror, this time on the level of the State. The State is
identified with the "apparatus"; that is to say, with the sum total of mechanisms of conquest and
repression. Conquest directed toward
the interior of the country is called repression or propaganda ("the first step on the road to hell," according
to Frank). Directed toward the exterior, it creates the army. All problems are thus militarized and posed in
terms of power and efficiency. The supreme commander determines policy and also deals with all the
main problems of administration. This principle, axiomatic as far as strategy is concerned, is applied to
civil life in general. One leader, one people, signifies one master and millions of slaves. The political
intermediaries who are, in all societies, the guarantors of freedom, disappear to make way for a booted
and spurred Jehovah who rules over the silent masses or, which comes to the same thing, over masses
who shout slogans at the top of their lungs. There is no organ of conciliation or mediation interposed
between the leader and the people, nothing in fact but the apparatus—in other words, the party—which is
the emanation of the leader and the tool of his will to oppress. In this way the first and sole principle of
this degraded form of mysticism is born, the Fuhr-erprinzip, which restores idolatry and a debased deity
to the world of nihilism.
Mussolini, the Latin lawyer, contented himself with reasons of State, which he transformed, with a great
deal of rhetoric, into the absolute. "Nothing beyond the State, above the State, against the State.
Everything to the State, for the State, in the State." The Germany of Hitler gave his false reasoning its real
expression, which was that of a religion. "Our divine mission," says a Nazi newspaper during a party
congress, "was to lead everyone back to his origins, back to the common Mother. It was truly a divine
mission." These origins are thus to be found in primitive howls and shrieks. Who is the god in question?
An official party declaration answers that: "All of us here below believe in Adolf Hitler, our Fiihrer . . .
and [we confess] that National Socialism is the only faith which can lead our people to salvation." The
commandments of the leader, standing in the burning bush of spotlights, on a Sinai of planks and flags,
therefore comprise both law and virtue. If the superhuman microphones give orders only once for a crime
to be committed, then the crime is handed down from chief to subchief until it reaches the slave who
receives orders without being able to pass them
on to anybody. One of the Dachau executioners weeps in prison and says: "I only obeyed orders. The
Fuhrer and the Reichsfuhrer alone planned all this, and then they ran away. Gluecks received orders from
Kaltenbrunner and, finally, I received orders to carry out the shootings. I have been left holding the bag
because I was only a little Hauptscharfuhrer and because I couldn't hand it on any lower down the line.
Now they say that I am the assassin." Goring during the trial proclaimed his loyalty to the Fiihrer and said
that "there was still a code of honor in that accursed life." Honor lay in obedience, which was often
confused with crime. Military law punishes disobedience by death, and its honor is servitude. When all
the world has become military, then crime consists in not killing if orders insist on it.
Orders, unfortunately, seldom insist on good deeds. Pure doctrinal dynamism cannot be directed toward
good, but only toward efficacy. As long as enemies exist, terror will exist; and there will be enemies as
long as dynamism exists to ensure that: "All the influences liable to undermine the sovereignty of the
people, as exercised by the Fiihrer with the assistance of the party . . . must be eliminated." Enemies are
heretics and must be converted by preaching or propaganda, exterminated by inquisition or by the
Gestapo. The result is that man, if he is a member of the party, is no more than a tool in the hands of the
Fiihrer, a cog in the apparatus, or, if he is the enemy of the Fiihrer, a waste product of the machine. The
impetus toward irrationality of this movement, born of rebellion, now even goes so far as to propose
suppressing all that makes man more than a cog in the machine; in other words, rebellion itself. The
romantic individualism of the German revolutions finally satiated in the world of inanimate objects.
Irrational terror transforms men into objects, "planetary bacilli," according to Hitler's formula. It proposes
the destruction, not only of the individual, but of the universal possibilities of the individual, of reflection,
solidarity, and the urge to absolute love. Propaganda and torture are the direct means of bringing about
disintegration; more destructive still are systematic degradation, identification with the cynical criminal,
and forced complicity. The triumph of the man who kills or tortures is
marred by only one shadow: he is unable to feel that he is innocent. Thus, he must create guilt in his
victim so that, in a world that has no direction, universal guilt will authorize no other course of action
than the use of force and give its blessing to nothing but success. When the concept of innocence
disappears from the mind of the innocent victim himself, the value of power establishes a definitive rule
over a world in despair. That is why an unworthy and cruel penitence reigns over this world where only
the stones are innocent. The condemned are compelled to hang one another. Even the innocent cry of
maternity is stifled, as in the case of the Greek mother who was forced by an officer to choose which of
her three sons was to be shot. This is the final realization of freedom: the power to kill and degrade saves
the servile soul from utter emptiness. The hymn of German freedom is sung, to the music of a prisoners'
orchestra, in the camps of death.
The crimes of the Hitler regime, among them the massacre of the Jews, are without precedent in history
because history gives no other example of a doctrine of such total destruction being able to seize the
levers of command of a civilized nation. But above all, for the first time in history, the rulers of a country
have used their immense power to establish a mystique beyond the bounds of any ethical considerations.
This first attempt to found a Church on nihilism was paid for by complete annihilation. The destruction of
Lidice demonstrates clearly that the systematic and scientific aspect of the Nazi movement really hides an
irrational drive that can only be interpreted as a drive of despair and arrogance. Until then, there were
supposedly only two possible attitudes for a conqueror toward a village that was considered rebellious.
Either calculated repression and cold-blooded execution of hostages, or a savage and necessarily brief
sack by enraged soldiers. Lidice was destroyed by both methods simultaneously. It illustrates the ravages
of that irrational form of reason which is the only value that can be found in the whole story. Not only
were all the houses burned to the ground, the hundred and seventy-four men of the village shot, the two
hundred and three women deported, and the three
hundred children transferred elsewhere to be educated in the religion of the Fuhrer, but special teams spent months
at work leveling the terrain with dynamite, destroying the very stones, filling in the village pond, and finally
diverting the course of the river. After that, Lidice was really nothing more than a mere possibility, according to the
logic of the movement. To make assurance doubly sure, the cemetery was emptied of its dead, who might have been
a perpetual reminder that once something existed in this place.2
The nihilist revolution, which is expressed historically in the Hitlerian religion, thus only aroused an insensate
passion for nothingness, which ended by turning against itself. Negation, this time at any rate, and despite Hegel, has
not been creative. Hitler presents the example, perhaps unique in history, of a tyrant who left absolutely nothing to
his credit. For himself, for his people, and for the world, he was nothing but the epitome of suicide and murder.
Seven million Jews assassinated, seven million Europeans deported or killed, ten million war victims, are perhaps
not sufficient to allow history to pass judgment: history is accustomed to murderers. But the very destruction of
Hitler's final justification—that is, the German nation—henceforth makes this man, whose presence in history for
years on end haunted the minds of millions of men, into an inconsistent and contemptible phantom. Speer's
deposition at the Nuremberg trials showed that Hitler, though he could have stopped the war before the point of total
disaster, really wanted universal suicide and the material and political destruction of the German nation. The only
value for him remained, until the bitter end, success. Since Germany had lost the war, she was cowardly and
treacherous and she deserved to die. "If the German people are incapable of victory, they are unworthy to live."
Hitler therefore decided to drag them with him to the grave and to make their destruction an apotheosis, when the
Russian cannon were already splitting apart the walls of his palace in Berlin. Hitler, Goring, who
2 It is striking to note that atrocities reminiscent of these excesses were committed in colonies (India, 1857; Algeria,
1945; etc.) by European nations that in reality obeyed the same irrational prejudice of racial superiority.
wanted to see his bones placed in a marble tomb, Goeb-bels, Himmler, Ley, killed themselves in dugouts
or in cells. But their deaths were deaths for nothing; they were like a bad dream, a puff of smoke that
vanishes. Neither efficacious nor exemplary, they consecrate the bloodthirsty vanity of nihilism. "They
thought they were free," Frank cries hysterically; "didn't they know that no one escapes from Hitlerism?"
They did not know; nor did they know that the negation of everything is in itself a form of servitude and
that real freedom is an inner submission to a value which defies history and its successes.
But the Fascist mystics, even though they aimed at gradually dominating the world, really never had
pretensions to a universal empire. At the very most, Hitler, astonished at his own victories, was diverted
from the provincial origins of his movement towards the indefinite dream of an empire of the Germans
that had nothing to do with the universal City. Russian Communism, on the contrary, by its very origins,
openly aspires to world empire. That is its strength, its deliberate significance, and its importance in our
history. Despite appearances, the German revolution had no hope of a future. It was only a primitive
impulse whose ravages have been greater than its real ambitions. Russian Communism, on the contrary,
has appropriated the metaphysical ambition that this book describes, the erection, after the death of God,
of a city of man finally deified. The name revolution, to which Hitler's adventure had no claim, was once
deserved by Russian Communism, and although it apparently deserves it no longer, it claims that one day
it will deserve it forever. For the first time in history, a doctrine and a movement based on an Empire in
arms has as its purpose definitive revolution and the final unification of the world. It remains for us to
examine this pretension in detail. Hitler, at the height of his madness, wanted to fix the course of history
for a thousand years. He believed himself to be on the point of doing so, and the realist philosophers of
the conquered nations were preparing to acknowledge this and to excuse it, when the Battle of Britain and
Stalingrad threw him back on the path of death and set history once
more on the march. But, as indefatigable as history itself, the claim of the human race to divinity is once
more brought to life, with more seriousness, more efficiency, and more reason, under the auspices of the
rational State as it is to be found in Russia.

State Terrorism and Rational Terror
Marx, in nineteenth-century England, in the midst of the terrible sufferings caused by the transition from
an agricultural economy to an industrial economy, had plenty of material for constructing a striking
analysis of primitive capitalism. As for Socialism, apart from the lessons, which for the most part
contradicted his doctrines, that he could draw from the French Revolution, he was obliged to speak in the
future tense and in the abstract. Thus it is not astonishing that he could blend in his doctrine the most
valid critical method with a Utopian Messianism of highly dubious value. The unfortunate thing is that his
critical method, which, by definition, should have been adjusted to reality, has found itself farther and
farther separated from facts to the exact extent that it wanted to remain faithful to the prophecy. It was
thought, and this is already an indication of the future, that what was conceded to truth could be taken
from Messianism. This contradiction is perceptible in Marx's lifetime. The doctrine of the Communist
Manifesto is no longer strictly correct twenty years later, when Das Kapital appears. Das Kapital,
nevertheless, remained incomplete, because Marx was influenced at the end of his life by a new and
prodigious mass of social and economic facts to which the system had to be adapted anew. These facts
concerned, in particular, Russia, which he had spurned until then. We now know that the Marx-Engels
Institute in Moscow ceased, in 1935, the publication of the complete works of Marx while more than
thirty volumes still remained unpublished; doubtless the content of these volumes was not "Marxist"
enough.
Since Marx's death, in any case, only a minority of
disciples have remained faithful to his method. The Marxists who have made history have, on the contrary,
appropriated the prophecy and the apocalyptic aspects of his doctrine in order to realize a Marxist revolution, in the
exact circumstances under which Marx had foreseen that a revolution could not take place. It can be said of Marx
that the greater part of his predictions came into conflict with facts as soon as his prophecies began to become an .
object of increasing faith. The reason is simple: the predictions were short-term and could be controlled. Prophecy
functions on a very long-term basis and has as one of its properties a characteristic that is the very source of strength
of all religions: the impossibility of proof. When the predictions failed to come true, the prophecies remained the
only hope; with the result that they alone rule over our history. Marxism and its successors will be examined here
from the angle of prophecy.
The Bourgeois Prophecy
Marx is simultaneously a bourgeois and a revolutionary prophet. The latter is better known than the former. But the
former explains many things in the career of the latter. A Messianism of Christian and bourgeois origin, which was
both historical and scientific, influenced his revolutionaryMessianism, which sprang from German ideology and the
French rebellions.
In contrast to the ancient world, the unity of the Christian and Marxist world is astonishing. The two doctrines have
in common a vision of the world which completely separates them from the Greek attitude. Jaspers defines this very
well: "It is a Christian way of thinking to consider that the history of man is strictly unique." The Christians were the
first to consider human life and the course of events as a history that is unfolding from a fixed beginning toward a
definite end, in the course of which man achieves his salvation or earns his punishment. The philosophy of history
springs from a Christian representation, which is surprising to a Greek mind. The Greek idea of evolution has
nothing in common with our idea of historical evolution. The difference between the two
is the difference between a circle and a straight line. The Greeks imagined the history of the world as
cyclical. Aristotle, to give a definite example, did not believe that the time in which he was living was
subsequent to the Trojan War. Christianity was obliged, in order to penetrate the Mediterranean world, to
Hellenize itself, and its doctrine then became more flexible. But its originality lay in introducing into the
ancient world two ideas that had never before been associated: the idea of history and the idea of
punishment. In its concept of mediation, Christianity is Greek. In its idea of history, Christianity is Judaic
and will be found again in German ideology.
It is easier to understand this dissimilarity by underlining the hostility of historical methods of thought
toward nature, which they considered as an object not for contemplation but for transformation. For the
Christian, as for the Marxist, nature must be subdued. The Greeks are of the opinion that it is better to
obey it. The love of the ancients for the cosmos was completely unknown to the first Christians, who,
moreover, awaited with impatience an imminent end of the world. Hellenism, in association with
Christianity, then produces the admirable efflorescence of the Albigensian heresy on the one hand, and on
the other Saint Francis. But with the Inquisition and the destruction of the Albigensian heresy, the Church
again parts company with the world and with beauty, and gives back to history its pre-eminence over
nature. Jaspers is again right in saying: "It is the Christian attitude that gradually empties the world of its
substance . . . since the substance resided in a conglomeration of symbols." These symbols are those of
the drama of the divinity, which unfolds throughout time. Nature is only the setting for this drama. The
delicate equilibrium between humanity and nature, man's consent to the world, which gives ancient
thought its distinction and its refulgence, was first shattered for the benefit of history by Christianity. The
entry into this history of the Nordic peoples, who have no tradition of friendship with the world,
precipitated this trend. From the moment that the divinity of Christ is denied, or that, thanks to the efforts
of German ideology, He only symbolizes the man-god, the concept of mediation disappears and a Judaic
world reappears. The implacable
god of war rules again; all beauty is insulated as the source of idle pleasures, nature itself is enslaved.
Marx, from this point of view, is the Jeremiah of the god of history and the Saint Augustine of the
revolution. That this explains the really reactionary aspects of his doctrine can be demonstrated by a
simple comparison with his one contemporary who was an intelligent theorist of reaction.
Joseph de Maistre refutes Jacobinism and Calvinism, two doctrines which summed up for him
"everything bad that has been thought for three centuries," in the name of a Christian philosophy of
history. To counter schisms and heresies, he wanted to re-create "the robe without a seam" of a really
catholic Church. His aim—and this can be seen at the period of his Masonic adventures—is the universal
Christian city. Maistre dreams of the protoplastic Adam, or the Universal Man, of Fabre d'Olivet, who
will be the rallying-point of individual souls, and of the Adam Kadmon of the cabalists, who preceded the
Fall and who must now be brought to life again. When the Church has reclaimed the world, she will
endow this first and last Adam with a body. In the Soirees in St. Petersburg there is a mass of formulas on
this subject which bear a striking resemblance to the Messianic formulas of Hegel and Marx. In both the
terrestrial and the celestial Jerusalem that Maistre imagines, "all the inhabitants pervaded by the same
spirit will pervade one another and will reflect one another's happiness." Maistre does not go so far as to
deny personal survival after death; he only dreams of a mysterious unity reconquered in which, "evil
having been annihilated, there will be no more passion nor self-interest," and where "man will be reunited
with himself when his double standard will be obliterated and his two centers unified."
In the city of absolute knowledge, where the eyes of the mind and the eyes of the body became as one,
Hegel also reconciled contradictions. But Maistre's vision again coincides with that of Marx, who
proclaims "the end of the quarrel between essence and existence, between freedom and necessity." Evil,
for Maistre, is nothing but the destruction of unity. But humanity must rediscover its unity on earth and in
heaven. By what means? Maistre,
who is an ancien regime reactionary, is less explicit on this point than Marx. Meanwhile he was waiting
for a great religious revolution of which 1789 was only the "appalling preface." He quotes Saint John,
who asks that we make truth, which is exactly the program of the modern revolutionary mind, and Saint
Paul, who announces that "the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." Humanity marches, by way of
crimes, violence, and death, toward this final consummation, which will justify everything. The earth for
Maistre is nothing but "an immense altar on which all the living must be sacrificed, without end, without
limit, without respite, until the end of time, until the extinction of evil, until the death of death." His
fatalism, however, is active as well as passive. "Man must act as if he were capable of all things and
resign himself as if he were capable of nothing." We find in Marx the same sort of creative fatalism.
Maistre undoubtedly justifies the established order. But Marx justifies the order that is established in his
time. The most eloquent eulogy of capitalism was made by its greatest enemy. Marx is only anti-capitalist
in so far as capitalism is out of date. Another order must be established which will demand, in the name of
history, a new conformity. As for the means, they are the same for Marx as for Maistre: political realism,
discipline, force. When Maistre adopts Bossuet's bold idea that "the heretic is he who has personal
ideas"—in other words, ideas that have no reference to either a social or a religious tradition—he provides
the formula for the most ancient and the most modern of conformities. The attorney general, pessimistic
choirmaster of the executioner, announcess our diplomatic prosecutors.
It goes without saying that these resemblances do not make Maistre a Marxist, nor Marx a traditional
Christian. Marxist atheism is absolute. But nevertheless it does reinstate the supreme being on the level of
humanity. "Criticism of religion leads to this doctrine that man is for man the supreme being. From this
angle, socialism is therefore an enterprise for the deification of man and has assumed some of the
characteristics of traditional religions.1 This reconciliation, in any case, is instructive as
1 Saint-Simon, who influences Marx, is, moreover, influenced himself by Maistre and Bonald.
concerns the Christian origins of all types of historic Messianism, even revolutionary Messianism. The only
difference lies in a change of symbols. With Maistre, as with Marx, the end of time realizes Vigny's ambitious
dream, the reconciliation of the wolf and the lamb, the procession of criminal and victim to the same altar, the
reopening or opening of a terrestrial paradise. For Marx, the laws of history reflect material reality; for Maistre, they
reflect divine reality. But for the former, matter is the substance; for the latter, the substance of his god is incarnate
here below. Eternity separates them at the beginning, but the doctrines of history end by reuniting them in a realistic
conclusion.
Maistre hated Greece (it also irked Marx, who found any form of beauty under the sun completely alien), of which
he said that it had corrupted Europe by bequeathing it its spirit of division. It would have been more appropriate to
say that Greek thought was the spirit of unity, precisely because it could not do without intermediaries, and because
it was, on the contrary, quite unaware of the historical spirit of totality, which was invented by Christianity and
which, cut off from its religious origins, threatens the life of Europe today. "Is there a fable, a form of madness, a
vice which has not a Greek name, a Greek emblem, or a Greek mask?" We can ignore the outraged puritanism. This
passionate denunciation expresses the spirit of modernity at variance with the ancient world and in direct continuity
with authoritarian socialism, which is about to deconsecrate Christianity and incorporate it in a Church bent on
conquest.
Marx's scientific Messianism is itself of bourgeois origin. Progress, the future of science, the cult of technology and
of production, are bourgeois myths, which in the nineteenth century became dogma. We note that the Communist
Manifesto appeared in the same year as Renan's Future of Science. This profession of faith, which would cause
considerable consternation to a contemporary reader, nevertheless gives the most accurate idea of the almost mystic
hopes aroused in the nineteenth century by the expansion of industry and the surprising progress made by science.
This hope is the hope of bourgeois
society itself—the final beneficiary of technical progress.
The idea of progress is contemporary with the age of enlightenment and with the bourgeois revolution. Of
course, certain sources of its inspiration can be found in the seventeenth century; the quarrel between the
Ancients and the Moderns already introduced into European ideology the perfectly absurd conception of
an artistic form of progress. In a more serious fashion, the idea of a science that steadily increases its
conquests can also be derived from Cartesian philosophy. But Turgot, in 1750, is the first person to give a
clear definition of the new faith. His treatise on the progress of the human mind basically recapitulates
Bossuet's universal history. The idea of progress alone is substituted for the divine will. "The total mass
of the human race, by alternating stages of calm and agitation, of good and evil, always marches, though
with dragging footsteps, toward greater and greater perfection." This optimistic statement will furnish the
basic ingredient of the rhetorical observations of Condorcet, the official theorist of progress, which he
linked with the progress of the State and of which he was also the official victim in that the enlightened
State forced him to poison himself. Sorel2 was perfectly correct in saying that the philosophy of progress
was exactly the philosophy to suit a society eager to enjoy the material prosperity derived from technical
progress. When we are assured that tomorrow, in the natural order of events, will be better than today, we
can enjoy ourselves in peace. Progress, paradoxically, can be used to justify conservatism. A draft drawn
on confidence in the future, it allows the master to have a clear conscience. The slave and those whose
present life is miserable and who can find no consolation in the heavens are assured that at least the future
belongs to them. The future is the only kind of property that the masters willingly concede to the slaves.
These reflections are not, as we can see, out of date. But they are not out of date because the revolutionary
spirit has resumed this ambiguous and convenient theme of progress. Of course, it is not the same kind of
progress; Marx cannot pour enough scorn on bourgeois rational optimism. His concept of reason, as we
shall see, is differ-
2 Les Illusions du progres.
ent. But arduous progress toward a future of reconciliation nevertheless defines Marx's thought. Hegel
and Marxism destroyed the formal values that lighted for the Jacobins the straight road of this optimistic
version of history. In this way they preserved the idea of the forward march of history, which was simply
confounded by them with social progress and declared necessary. Thus they continued on the path of
nineteenth-century bourgeois thought. Toc-queville, enthusiastically succeeded by Pecqueur (who
influenced Marx), had solemnly proclaimed that: "The gradual and progressive development of equality is
both the past and the future of the history of man." To obtain Marxism, substitute the term level of
production for equality and imagine that in the final stage of production a transformation takes place and
a reconciled society is achieved.
As for the necessity of evolution, Auguste Comte, with the law of three stages of man, which he
formulates in 1822, gives the most systematic definition of it. Comte's conclusions are curiously like
those finally accepted by scientific socialism.3 Positivism demonstrates with considerable clarity the
repercussions of the ideological revolution of the nineteenth century, of which Marx is one of the
representatives, and which consisted in relegating to the end of history the Garden of Eden and the
Revelation, which tradition had always placed at the beginning. The positivist era, which was bound to
follow the metaphysical era and the theological era, was to mark the advent of a religion of humanity.
Henri Gouhier gives an exact definition of Comte's enterprise when he says that his concern was to
discover a man without any traces of God. Comte's primary aim, which was to substitute everywhere the
relative for the absolute, was quickly transformed, by force of circumstances, into the deification of the
relative and into preaching a religion that is both universal and without transcendence. Comte saw in the
Jacobin cult of Reason an anticipation of positivism and considered himself, with perfect justification, as
the real successor of the revolutionaries of 1789. He continued and enlarged the scope of this revolution
by suppressing
3 The last volume of Cours de philosophic positive appeared in the same year as Feuerbach's Essence of
Christianity.
the transcendence of principles and by systematically founding the religion of the species. His formula: "Set aside
God in the name of religion," meant nothing else but this. Inaugurating a mania that has since enjoyed a great vogue,
he wanted to be the Saint Paul of this new religion and replace the Catholicism of Rome by the Catholicism of Paris.
We know that he wanted to see in all the cathedrals "the statue of deified humanity on the former altar of God." He
calculated with considerable accuracy that positivism would be preached in Notre-Dame before1860. This
calculation was not so ridiculous as it seems. Notre-Dame, in a state of siege, still resists: but the religion of
humanity was effectively preached toward the end of the nineteenth century, and Marx, despite the fact that he had
not read Comte, was one of its prophets. Marx only understood that a religion which did not embrace transcendence
should properly be called politics. Comte knew it too, after all, or at least he understood that his religion was
primarily a form of social idolatry and that it implied political realism,4 the negation of individual rights, and the
establishment of despotism. A society whose experts would be priests, two thousand bankers and technicians ruling
over a Europe of one hundred and twenty million inhabitants where private life would be absolutely identified with
public life, where absolute obedience "of action, of thought, and of feeling" would be given to the high priest who
would reign over everything, such was Comte's Utopia, which announces what might be called the horizontal
religions of our times. It is true that it is Utopian because, convinced of the enlightening powers of science, Comte
forgot to provide a police force. Others will be more practical; the religion of humanity will be effectively founded
on the blood and suffering of humanity.
Finally, if we add to these observations the remark that Marx owes to the bourgeois economists the idea, which he
claims exclusively as his own, of the part played by industrial production in the development of humanity, and that
he took the essentials of his theory of work-value from Ricardo,. an economist of the bourgeois industrial
4 "Everything that develops spontaneously is necessarily legitimate, for a certain time."
revolution, our right to say that his prophecy is bourgeois in content will doubtless be recognized. These
comparisons only aim to show that Marx, instead of being, as the fanatical Marxists of our day would
have it, the beginning and the end of the prophecy,5 participates on the contrary in human nature: he is an
heir before he is a pioneer. His doctrine, which he wanted to be a realist doctrine, actually was realistic
during the period of the religion of science, of Darwinian evolutionism, of the steam engine and the
textile industry. A hundred years later, science encounters relativity, uncertainty, and chance; the
economy must take into account electricity, metallurgy, and atomic production. The inability of pure
Marxism to assimilate these successive discoveries was shared by the bourgeois optimism of Marx's time.
It renders ridiculous the Marxist pretension of maintaining that truths one hundred years old are
unalterable without ceasing to be scientific. Nineteenth-century Messianism, whether it is revolutionary or
bourgeois, has not resisted the successive developments of this science and this history, which to different
degrees they have deified.

The Revolutionary Prophecy
Marx's prophecy is also revolutionary in principle. In that all human reality has its origins in the fruits of
production, historical evolution is revolutionary because the economy is revolutionary. At each level of
production the economy arouses the antagonisms that destroy, to the profit of a superior level of
production, the corresponding society. Capitalism is the last of these stages of production because it
produces the conditions in which every antagonism will be resolved and where there will be no more
economy. On that day our history will become prehistory. This representation is the same as Hegel's, but
in another perspective. The dialectic is considered from the
5According to Zhdanov, Marxism is "a philosophy that is qualitatively different from any previous
system." This means, for example, either that Marxism is not Cartesianism, which no one would dream of
denying, or that Marxism owes essentially nothing to Cartesianism, which is absurd.
angle of production and work instead of from the angle of the spirit. Marx, of course, never spoke himself
about dialectical materialism. He left to his heirs the task of extolling this logical monstrosity. But he
says, at the same time, that reality is dialectic and that it is economic. Reality is a perpetual process of
evolution, propelled by the fertile impact of antagonisms which are resolved each time into a superior
synthesis which, itself, creates its opposite and again causes history to advance. What Hegel affirmed
concerning reality advancing toward the spirit, Marx affirms concerning economy on the march toward
the classless society; everything is both itself and its opposite, and this contradiction compels it to become
something else. Capitalism, because it is bourgeois, reveals itself as revolutionary and prepares the way
for communism.
Marx's originality lies in affirming that history is simultaneously dialectic and economic. Hegel, more
extreme, affirmed that it was both matter and spirit. Moreover, it could only be matter to the extent that it
was spirit and vice versa. Marx denies the spirit as the definitive substance and affirms historical
materialism. We can immediately remark, with Berdyaev, on the impossibility of reconciling the dialectic
with materialism. There can be a dialectic only of the mind. But even materialism itself is an ambiguous
idea. Only to form this word, it must be admitted that there is something more in the world than matter
alone. For even stronger reasons, this criticism applies to historical materialism. History is distinguished
from nature precisely by the fact that it transforms science and passion by means of will. Marx, then, is
not a pure materialist, for the obvious reason that there is neither a pure nor an absolute materialism. So
far is it from being pure or absolute that it recognizes that if weapons can secure the triumph of theory,
theory can equally well give birth to weapons. Marx's position would be more properly called historical
determinism. He does not deny thought; he imagines it absolutely determined by exterior reality. "For me,
the process of thought is only the reflection of the process of reality transported and transposed to the
mind of man." This particularly clumsy definition has no meaning. How and by what means can an
exterior process be "transported to the mind," and this difficulty is as
nothing compared to that of then defining "the transposition" of this process. But Marx used the
abbreviated philosophy of his time. What he wishes to say can be defined on other planes.
For him, man is only history, and in particular the history of the means of production. Marx, in fact,
remarks that man differs from animals in that he produces his own means of subsistence. If he does not
first eat, if he does not clothe himself or take shelter, he does not exist. This primum vivere is his first
determination. The little that he thinks at this moment is in direct relation to these inevitable necessities.
Marx then demonstrates that his dependence is both invariable and inevitable. "The history of industry is
the open book of man's essential faculties." His personal generalization consists in inferring from this
affirmation, which is on the whole acceptable, that economic dependence is unique and suffices to explain
everything, a concept that still remains to be demonstrated. We can admit that economic determination
plays a highly important role in the genesis of human thoughts and actions without drawing the
conclusion, as Marx does, that the German rebellion against Napoleon is explained only by the lack of
sugar and coffee. Moreover, pure determinism is absurd in itself. If it were not, then one single
affirmation would suffice to lead, from consequence to consequence, to the entire truth. If this is not so,
then either we have never made a single true affirmation—not even the one stated by determinism—or we
simply happen occasionally to say the truth, but without any consequences, and determinism is then false.
Marx had his reasons, however, which are foreign to pure logic, for resorting to so arbitrary a
simplification.
To put economic determination at the root of all human action is to sum man up in terms of his social
relations. There is no such thing as a solitary man; that is the indisputable discovery of the nineteenth
century. An arbitrary deduction then leads to the statement that man only feels solitary in society for
social reasons. If, in fact, the solitary mind must be explained by something outside man, then man is on
the road to some form of transcendence. On the other hand, society has only man as its source of origin;
if, in addition, it can be affirmed that
society is the creator of man, it would seem as though one had achieved the total explanation that would allow the
final banishment of transcendence. Man would then be, as Marx wanted, "author and actor of his own history."
Marx's prophecy is revolutionary because he completes the movement of negation begun by the philosophy of
illumination. The Jacobins destroyed the transcendence of a personal god, but replaced it by the transcendence of
principles. Marx institutes contemporary atheism by also destroying the transcendence of principles. Faith is
replaced in 1789 by reason. But this reason itself, in its fixity, is transcendent. Marx destroys, even more radically
than Hegel, the transcendence of reason and hurls it into the stream of history. Even before their time, history was a
regulating principle; now it is triumphant. Marx goes farther than Hegel and pretends to consider him as an idealist
(which he is not, at least no more than Marx is a materialist) to the precise extent that the reign of the mind restores
in a certain way a supra-historical value. Das Kapital returns to the dialectic of mastery and servitude, but replaces a
consciousness of self by economic autonomy and the final reign of the absolute Spirit through the advent of
communism. "Atheism is humanism mediated by the suppression of religion, communism is humanism mediated by
the suppression of private property." Religious alienation has the same origin as economic alienation. Religion can
be disposed of only by achieving the absolute liberty of man in regard to his material determinations. The revolution
is identified with atheism and with the reign of man.
That is whyMarx is brought to the point of putting the emphasis on economic and social determination. His most
profitable undertaking has been to reveal the reality that is hidden behind the formal values of which the bourgeois
of his time made a great show. His theory of mystification is still valid, because it is in fact universally true, and is
equally applicable to revolutionary mystifications. The freedom of which Monsieur Thiers dreamed was the freedom
of privilege consolidated by the police; the family, extolled by the conservative newspapers, was supported by social
conditions in which men and women were sent down into the mines, half-naked, attached to a
communal rope; morality prospered on the prostitution of the working classes. That the demands of
honesty and intelligence were put to egoistic ends by the hypocrisy of a mediocre and grasping society
was a misfortune that Marx, the incomparable eye-opener, denounced with a vehemence quite unknown
before him. This indignant denunciation brought other excesses in its train which require quite another
denunciation. But, above all, we must recognize and state that the denunciation was born in the blood of
the abortive Lyon rebellion of 1834 and in the despicable cruelty of the Versailles moralists in 1871. "The
man who has nothing is nothing." If this affirmation is actually false, it was very nearly true in the
optimist society of the nineteenth century. The extreme decadence brought about by the economy of
prosperity was to compel Marx to give first place to social and economic relationships and to magnify
still more his prophecy of the reign of man.
It is now easier to understand the purely economic explanation of history offered by Marx. If principles
are deceptive, only the reality of poverty and work is true. If it is then possible to demonstrate that this
suffices to explain the past and the future of mankind, then principles will be destroyed forever and with
them the society that profits by them. This in fact is Marx's ambition.
Man is born into a world of production and social relations. The unequal opportunities of different lands,
the more or less rapid improvements in the means of production, and the struggle for life have rapidly
created social inequalities that have been crystallized into antagonisms between production and
distribution; and consequently into class struggles. These struggles and antagonisms are the motive power
of history. Slavery in ancient times and feudal bondage were stages on a long road that led to the
artisanship of the classical centuries when the producer was master of the means of production. At this
moment the opening of world trade routes and the discovery of new outlets demanded a less provincial
form of production. The contradiction between the method of production and the new demands of
distribution already announces the end of the regime of small-scale agricultural and industrial production.
The industrial revolution, the
invention of steam appliances, and competition for outlets inevitably led to the expropriation of the small
proprietor and to the introduction of large-scale production. The means of production are then
concentrated in the hands of those who are able to buy them; the real producers, the workers, now only
dispose of the strength of their arms, which can be sold to the "man with the money." Thus bourgeois
capitalism is defined by the separation of the producer from the means of production. From this conflict a
series of inevitable consequences are going to spring which allow Marx to predicate the end of social
antagonisms.
At first sight there is no reason why the firmly established principle of a dialectical class struggle should
suddenly cease to be true. It is always true or it has never been true. Marx says plainly that there will be
no more classes after the revolution than there were Estates after 1789. But Estates disappeared without
classes disappearing, and there is nothing to prove that classes will not give way to some other form of
social antagonism. The essentia] point of the Marxist prophecy lies, nevertheless, in this affirmation.
We know the Marxist scheme. Marx, following in the footsteps of Adam Smith and Ricardo, defines the
value of all commodities in terms of the amount of work necessary to produce them. The amount of work
is itself a commodity, sold by the proletarian to the capitalist, of which the value is defined by the
quantity of work that produces it; in other words, by the value of the consumer's goods necessary for his
subsistence. The capitalist, in buying this commodity, thereby undertakes to pay for it adequately so that
he who sells it, the worker, may feed and perpetuate himself. But at the same time he acquires the right to
make the latter work as long as he can. He can work for a long time, very much longer than is necessary
to pay for his subsistence. In a twelve-hour day, if half the time suffices to produce a value equivalent to
the value of the products of subsistence, the other six hours are hours not paid for, a plus-value, which
constitutes the capitalist's own profit. Thus the capitalist's interest lies in prolonging to the maximum the
hours of work or, when he can do so no longer, of increasing the worker's output
to the maximum. The first type of coercion is a matter of oppression and cruelty. The second is a question
of the organization of labor. It leads first to the division of labor, and then to the utilization of the
machine, which dehumanizes the worker. Moreover, competition for foreign markets and the necessity for
larger and larger investments in raw materials, produce phenomena of concentration and accumulation.
First, small capitalists are absorbed by big capitalists who can maintain, for example, unprofitable prices
for a longer period. A larger and larger part of the profits is finally invested in new machines and
accumulated in the fixed assets of capital. This double movement first of all hastens the ruin of the middle
classes, who are absorbed into the proletariat, and then proceeds to concentrate, in an increasingly small
number of hands, the riches produced uniquely by the proletariat. Thus the proletariat increases in size in
proportion to its increasing ruin. Capital is now concentrated in the hands of only a very few masters,
whose growing power is based on robbery. Moreover, these masters are shaken to their foundations by
successive crises, overwhelmed by the contradictions of the system, and can no longer assure even mere
subsistence to their slaves, who then come to depend on private or public charity. A day comes,
inevitably, when a huge army of oppressed slaves find themselves face to face with a handful of
despicable masters. That day is the day of revolution. "The ruin of the bourgeoisie and the victory of the
proletariat are equally inevitable."
This henceforth famous description does not yet give an account of the end of all antagonisms. After the
victory of the proletariat, the struggle for life might well give birth to new antagonisms. Two ideas then
intervene, one of which is economic, the identity of the development of production and the development
of society, and the other, purely systematic, the mission of the proletariat. These two ideas reunite in what
might be called Marx's activist fatalism.
The same economic evolution which in effect concentrates capital in a very few hands, makes the
antagonism both more violent and, to a certain extent, unreal. It seems that, at the highest point of
development of the productive forces, the slightest stimulus would lead to the
proletariat finding itself alone in possession of the means of production, already snatched from the grasp
of private ownership and concentrated in one enormous mass which, henceforth, would be held in
common. When private property is concentrated in the hands of one single owner, it is only separated
from collective ownership by the existence of one single man. The inevitable result of private capitalism
is a kind of State capitalism which will then only have to be put to the service of the community to give
birth to a society where capital and labor, henceforth indistinguishable, will produce, in one identical
advance toward progress, both justice and abundance. It is in consideration of this happy outcome that
Marx always extolled the revolutionary role played, unconsciously it is true, by the bourgeoisie. He spoke
of the "historic rights" of capitalism, which he called a source both of progress and of misery. The
historical mission and the justification of capitalism are, in his eyes, to prepare the conditions for a
superior mode of production. This mode of production is not in itself revolutionary; it will only be the
consummation of the revolution. Only the fundamental principles of bourgeois production are
revolutionary. When Marx affirms that humanity only sets itself problems it can solve, he is
simultaneously demonstrating that the germ of the solution of the revolutionary problem is to be found in
the capitalist system itself. Therefore he recommends tolerating the bourgeois State, and even helping to
build it, rather than returning to a less industrialized form of production. The proletariat "can and must
accept the bourgeois revolution as a condition of the working-class revolution."
Thus Marx is the prophet of production and we are justified in thinking that on this precise point, and on
no other, he ignored reality in favor of the system. He never ceased defending Ricardo, the economist of
production in the manner of Manchester, against those who accused him of wanting production for
production's sake ("He was absolutely right!" Marx exclaims) and of wanting it without any consideration
for mankind. "That is precisely his merit," Marx replies, with the same airy indifference as Hegel. What
in fact does the sacrifice of individual men matter as long as it contributes to the salvation of all mankind!
Progress resembles "that horrible pagan god who wished to drink nectar only from the skulls of his fallen
enemies." But at least it is progress, and it will cease to inflict torture after the industrial apocalypse when the day of
reconciliation comes.
But if the proletariat cannot avoid this revolution nor avoid being put in possession of the means of production, will
it at least know how to use them for the benefit of all? Where is the guarantee that, in the very bosom of the
revolution, Estates, classes, and antagonisms will not arise? The guarantee lies in Hegel. The proletariat is forced to
use its wealth for the universal good. It is not the proletariat, it is the universal in opposition to the particular—in
other words, to capitalism. The antagonism between capital and the proletariat is the last phase of the struggle
between the particular and the universal, the same struggle that animated the historical tragedy of master and slave.
At the end of the visionary design constructed by Marx, the proletariat will unite all classes and discard only a
handful of masters, perpetrators of "notorious crime," who will be justly destroyed by the revolution. What is more,
capitalism, by driving the proletariat to the final point of degradation, gradually delivers it from every decision that
might separate it from other men. It has nothing, neither property nor morality nor country. Therefore it clings to
nothing but the species of which it is henceforth the naked and implacable representative. In affirming itself it
affirms everything and everyone. Not because members of the proletariat are gods, but precisely because they have
been reduced to the most abjectly inhuman condition. "Only the proletariat, totally excluded from this affirmation of
their personality, are capable of realizing the complete affirmation of self."
That is the mission of the proletariat: to bring forth supreme dignity from supreme humiliation. Through its suffering
and its struggles, it is Christ in human form redeeming the collective sin of alienation. It is, first of all, the multiform
bearer of total negation and then the herald of definitive affirmation. "Philosophy cannot realize itself without the
disappearance of the proletariat, the proletariat cannot liberate itself without the realization of philosophy," and
again: "The proletariat can exist only on the basis of
world history. . . . Communist action can exist only as historical reality on the planetary scale." But this
Christ is, at the same time, an avenger. According to Marx, he carries out the sentence that private
property passes on itself. "All the houses, in our times, are marked with a mysterious red cross. The judge
is history, the executioner is the proletariat." Thus the fulfillment is inevitable. Crisis will succeed crisis,6
the degradation of the proletariat will become more and more profound, it will increase in numbers until
the time of the universal crisis when the world of change will vanish and when history, by a supreme act
of violence, will cease to be violent any longer. The kingdom of ends will have come.
We can see that this fatalism could be driven (as happened to Hegelian thought) to a sort of political
quietism by Marxists, like Kautsky, for whom it was as little within the power of the proletariat to create
the revolution as within the power of the bourgeois to prevent it. Even Lenin, who was to choose the
activist aspect of the doctrine, wrote in 1905, in the style of an act of excommunication: "It is a
reactionary way of thinking to try to find salvation in the working class in any other way than in the topheavy
development of capitalism." It is not in the nature of economics, according to Marx, to make leaps
in the dark and it must not be encouraged to gallop ahead. It is completely false to say that the socialist
reformers remained faithful to Marx on this point. On the contrary, fatalism excludes all reforms, in that
there would be a risk of mitigating the catastrophic aspect of the outcome and, consequently, delaying the
inevitable result. The logic of such an attitude leads to the approval of everything that tends to increase
working-class poverty. The worker must be given nothing so that one day he can have everything.
And yet Marx saw the danger of this particular form of quietism. Power cannot be looked forward to or
else it is looked forward to indefinitely. A day comes when it must be seized, and it is the exact definition
of this day that remains of doubtful clarity to all readers of Marx. On this point he never stops
contradicting himself. He re6
Every ten or eleven years, Marx predicted. But the period between the recurrence of the cycles "will
gradually shorten."
marked that society was "historically compelled to pass through a period of dictatorship by the working classes." As
for the nature of this dictatorship, his definitions are contradictory.7 We are sure that he condemned the State in no
uncertain terms, saying that its existence and the existence of servitude are inseparable. But he protested against
Bakunin's nevertheless judicious observation of finding the idea of provisional dictatorship contrary to what is
known as human nature. Marx thought, it is true, that the dialectical truths were superior to psychological truths.
What does the dialectic say? That "the abolition of the State has no meaning except among communists, where it is
an inevitable result of the suppression of classes, the disappearance of which necessarily leads to the disappearance
of the need for a power organized by one class for the oppression of another." According to the sacred formula, the
government of people was then to be replaced by the administration of affairs. The dialectic was therefore explicit
and justified the existence of the proletarian State only for the period necessary for the destruction or integration of
the bourgeois class. But, unfortunately, the prophecy and its attitude of fatalism allowed other interpretations. If it is
certain that the kingdom will come, what does time matter? Suffering is never provisional for the man who does not
believe in the future. But one hundred years of suffering are fleeting in the eyes of the man who prophesies, for the
hundred and first year, the definitive city. In the perspective of the Marxist prophecy, nothing matters. In any event,
when the bourgeois class has disappeared, the proletariat will establish the rule of the universal man at the summit of
production, by the very logic of productive development. What does it matter that this should be accomplished by
dictatorship and violence? In this New Jerusalem, echoing with the roar of miraculous machinery, who will still
remember the cry of the victim? The golden age, postponed until the end of history and coincident, to add to its
attractions, with an apoc-
7 Michel Collinet in The Tragedy of Marxism points out in Marx three forms of the seizure of power by the
proletariat: Jacobin republic in the Communist Manifesto, authoritarian dictatorship in the 18 Brumaire, and federal
and libertarian government in the Civil War in France.
alypse, therefore justifies everything. The prodigious ambitions of Marxism must be considered and its inordinate
doctrines evaluated, in order to understand that hope on such a scale leads to the inevitable neglect of problems that
therefore appear to be secondary. "Communism in so far as it is the real appropriation of the human essence by man
and for man, in so far as it is the return of man to himself as a social being—in other words, as a human being—a
complete conscious return which preserves all the values of the inner movement, this communism, being absolute
naturalism, coincides with humanism: it is the real end of the quarrel between man and nature, between man and
man, between essence and existence, between externalization and the affirmation of self, between liberty and
necessity, between the individual and the species. It solves the mystery of history and is aware of having solved it."
It is only the language here that attempts to be scientific. Basically, where is the difference from Fourier, who
announces "fertile deserts, sea water made drinkable and tasting of violets, eternal spring . . ."? The eternal
springtime of mankind is foretold to us in the language of an encyclical. What can man without God want and hope
for, if not the kingdom of man? This explains the exaltation of Marxist disciples. "In a society without anguish, it is
easy to ignore death," says one of them. However, and this is the real condemnation of our society, the anguish of
death is a luxury that is felt far more by the idler than by the worker, who is stifled by his own occupation. But every
kind of socialism is Utopian, most of all scientific socialism. Utopia replaces God by the future. Then it proceeds to
identify the future with ethics; the only values are those which serve this particular future. For that reason Utopias
have almost always been coercive and authoritarian.8 Marx, in so far as he is a Utopian, does not differ from his
frightening predecessors, and one part of his teaching more than justifies his successors.
It has undoubtedly been correct to emphasize the ethical demands that form the basis of the Marxist dream. It must,
in all fairness, be said, before examining the check to Marxism, that in them lies the real greatness of Marx.
8 Morelly, Babeuf, and Godwin in reality describe societies based on an inquisition.
The very core of his theory was that work is profoundly dignified and unjustly despised. He rebelled
against the degradation of work to the level of a commodity and of the worker to the level of an object.
He reminded the privileged that their privileges were not divine and that property was not an eternal right.
He gave a bad conscience to those who had no right to a clear conscience, and denounced with
unparelleled profundity a class whose crime is not so much having had power as having used it to
advance the ends of a mediocre society deprived of any real nobility. To him we owe the idea which is the
despair of our times —but here despair is worth more than any hope—that when work is a degradation, it
is not life, even though it occupies every moment of a life. Who, despite the pretensions of this society,
can sleep in it in peace when they know that it derives its mediocre pleasures from the work of millions of
dead souls? By demanding for the worker real riches, which are not the riches of money but of leisure and
creation, he has reclaimed, despite all appearance to the contrary, the dignity of man. In doing so, and this
can be said with conviction, he never wanted the additional degradation that has been imposed on man in
his name. One of his phrases, which for once is clear and trenchant, forever withholds from his
triumphant disciples the greatness and the humanity which once were his: "An end that requires unjust
means is not a just end."
But Nietzsche's tragedy is found here once again. The aims, the prophecies are generous and universal,
but the doctrine is restrictive, and the reduction of every value to historical terms leads to the direst
consequences. Marx thought that the ends of history, at least, would prove to be moral and rational. That
was his Utopia. But Utopia, at least in the form he knew it, is destined to serve cynicism, of which he
wanted no part. Marx destroys all transcendence, then carries out, by himself, the transition from fact to
duty. But his concept of duty has no other origin but fact. The demand for justice ends in injustice if it is
not primarily based on an ethical justification ot justice; without this, crime itself one day becomes a duty.
When good and evil are reintegrated in time and confused with events, nothing is any longer good or bad,
but only either premature or out of date. Who will decide on
the opportunity, if not the opportunist? Later, say the disciples, you shall judge. But the victims will not
be there to judge. For the victim, the present is the only value, rebellion the only action. Messianism, in
order to exist, must construct a defense against the victims. It is possible that Marx did not want this, but
in this lies his responsibility which must be examined, that he incurred by justifying, in the name of the
revolution, the henceforth bloody struggle against all forms of rebellion.
The Failing of the Prophecy
Hegel haughtily brings history to an end in 1807; the disciples of Saint-Simon believe that the
revolutionary convulsions of 1830 and 1848 are the last; Comte dies in 1857 preparing to climb into the
pulpit and preach positivism to a humanity returned at last from the path of error. With the same blind
romanticism, Marx, in his turn, prophesies the classless society and the solution of the historical mystery.
Slightly more circumspect, however, he does not fix the date. Unfortunately, his prophecy also described
the march of history up to the hour of fulfillment; it predicted the trend of events. The events and the
facts, of course, have forgotten to arrange themselves according to the synthesis; and this already explains
why it has been necessary to rally them by force. But above all, the prophecies, from the moment that
they begin to betray the living hopes of millions of men, cannot with impunity remain indeterminate. A
time comes when deception transforms patient hope into furious disillusionment and when the ends,
affirmed with the mania of obstinacy, demanded with ever-increasing cruelty, make obligatory the search
for other means.
The revolutionary movement at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth lived,
like the early Christians, in the expectation of the end of the world and the advent of the proletarian
Christ. We know how persistent this sentiment was among primitive Christian communities. Even at the
end of the fourth century a bishop in proconsular Africa calculated that the world would only exist for
another one hundred and one years.
At the end of this period would come the kingdom of heaven, which must be merited without further delay. This
sentiment is prevalent in the first century9 and explains the indifference of the early Christians toward purely
theological questions. If the advent is near, everything must be consecrated to a burning faith rather than to works
and to dogma. Until Clement and Tertullian during more than a century, Christian literature ignored theological
problems and did not elaborate on the subject of works. But from the moment the advent no longer seems imminent,
man must live with his faith—in other words, compromise. Then piety and the catechism appear on the scene. The
evangelical advent fades into the distance; Saint Paul has come to establish dogma. The Church has incorporated the
faith that has only an ardent desire for the kingdom to come. Everything had to be organized in the period, even
martyrdom, of which the temporal witnesses are the monastic orders, and even the preaching, which was to be found
again in the guise of the Inquisition.
A similar movement was born of the check to the revolutionary advent. The passages from Marx already cited give a
fair idea of the burning hope that inspired the revolutionary spirit of the time. Despite partial setbacks, this faith
never ceased to increase up to the moment when it found itself, in 1917, face to face with the partial realization of its
dreams. "We are fighting for the gates of heaven," cried Liebknecht. In 1917 the revolutionary world really believed
that it had arrived before those gates. Rosa Luxemburg's prophecy was being realized. "The revolution will rise
resoundingly tomorrow to its full height and, to your consternation, will announce with the sound of all its trumpets:
I was, I am, I shall be." The Spartakus movement believed that it had achieved the definitive revolution because,
according to Marx himself, the latter would come to pass after the Russian Revolution had been consummated by a
Western revolution. After the revolution of 1917, a Soviet Germany would, in fact, have opened the gates of heaven.
But the Spartakus movement is crushed, the French general strike of 1920 fails,
9 On the imminence of this event, see Mark ix, 1; xiii, 30; Matthew x, 23; xvi, 27-8; xxiv, 34; Luke ix, 26-7; xxi, 22,
etc.
the Italian revolutionary movement is strangled. Liebknecht then recognizes that the time is not ripe for
revolution. "The period had not yet drawn to a close." But also, and now we grasp how defeat can excite
vanquished faith to the point of religious ecstasy: "At the crash of economic collapse whose rumblings
can already be heard, the sleeping soldiers of the proletariat will awake as at the fanfare of the Last
Judgment, and the corpses of the victims of the struggle will arise and demand an accounting from those
who are bowed down with curses." While awaiting these events, Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg are
assassinated, and Germany rushes toward servitude. The Russian Revolution remains isolated, living in
defiance of its own system, still far from the celestial gates, with an apocalypse to organize. The advent is
again postponed. Faith is intact, but it totters beneath an enormous load of problems and discoveries
which Marxism had not foreseen. The new religion is once more confronted with Galilee: to preserve its
faith, it must deny the sun and humiliate free man.
What does Galilee say, in fact, at this moment? What are the errors, demonstrated by history itself, of the
prophecy? We know that the economic evolution of the contemporary world refutes a certain number of
the postulates of Marx. If the revolution is to occur at the end of two parallel movements, the unlimited
shrinking of capital and the unlimited expansion of the proletariat, it will not occur or ought not to have
occurred. Capital and proletariat have both been equally unfaithful to Marx. The tendency observed in
industrial England of the nineteenth century has, in certain cases, changed its course, and in others
become more complex. Economic crises, which should have occurred with increasing frequency, have, on
the contrary, become more sporadic: capitalism has learned the secrets of planned production and has
contributed on its own part to the growth of the Moloch State. Moreover, with the introduction of
companies in which stock could be held, capital, instead of becoming increasingly concentrated, has
given rise to a new category of smallholders whose very last desire would certainly be to encourage
strikes. Small enterprises have been, in many cases, destroyed by competition as Marx foresaw. But the
complexity of modern production has generated a multitude of small factories around great enterprises. In 1938 Ford
was able to announce that five thousand two hundred independent workshops supplied him with their products. Of
course large industries inevitably assimilated these enterprises to a certain extent. But the essential thing is that these
small industrialists form an intermediary social layer which complicates the scheme that Marx imagined. Finally, the
law of concentration has proved absolutely false in agricultural economy, which was treated with considerable
frivolity by Marx. The hiatus is important here. In one of its aspects, the history of socialism in our times can be
considered as the struggle between the proletarian movement and the peasant class. This struggle continues, on the
historical plane, the nineteenth-century ideological struggle between authoritarian socialism and libertarian
socialism, of which the peasant and artisan origins are quite evident. Thus Marx had, in the ideological material of
his time, the elements for a study of the peasant problem. But his desire to systematize made him oversimplify
everything. This particular simplification was to prove expensive for the kulaks who constituted more than five
million historic exceptions to be brought, by death and deportation, within the Marxist pattern.
The same desire for simplification diverted Marx from the phenomenon of the nation in the very century of
nationalism. He believed that through commerce and exchange, through the very victory of the proletariat, the
barriers would fall. But it was national barriers that brought about the fall of the proletarian ideal. As a means of
explaining history, the struggle between nations has been proved at least as important as the class struggle. But
nations cannot be entirely explained by economics; therefore the system ignored them.
The proletariat, on its part, did not toe the line. First of all, Marx's fear is confirmed: reforms and trade unions
brought about a rise in the standard of living and an amelioration in working conditions. These improvements are
very far from constituting an equitable settlement of the social problem; but the miserable condition of the English
textile workers in Marx's time, far from becoming general and even deteriorating, as he would have liked,
has on the contrary been alleviated. Marx would not complain about this today, the equilibrium having been
reestablished by another error in his predictions. It has, in fact, been possible to prove that the most efficacious
revolutionary or trade-union asset has always been the existence of a working-class elite who have not been
sterilized by hunger. Poverty and degeneration have never ceased to be what they were before Marx's time, and what
he did not want to admit they were despite all his observations: factors contributing to servitude not to revolution.
One third of working-class Germany was unemployed in 1933. Bourgeois society was then obliged to provide a
means of livelihood for these unemployed, thus bringing about the situation that Marx said was essential for
revolution. But it is not a good thing that future revolutionaries should be put in the situation of expecting to be fed
by the State. This unnatural habjt leads to others, which are even less good, and which Hitler made into doctrine.
Finally, the proletariat did not increase in numbers indefinitely. The very conditions of industrial production, which
every Marxist is called upon to encourage, improved, to a considerable extent, the conditions of the middle class1
and even created a new social stratum, the technicians. The ideal, so dear to Lenin, of a society in which the
engineer would at the same time be a manual laborer is in conflict with the facts. The principal fact is that
technology, like science, has reached such a degree of complication that it is not possible for a single man to
understand the totality of its principles and applications. It is almost impossible, for instance, for a physicist today to
have a complete understanding of the biological science of his times. Even within the realms of physics he cannot
claim to be equally familiar with every branch of the subject. It is the same in technology. From the moment that
productivity, which is considered by both bourgeois and Marxist as a benefit in itself, is developed to enormous
proportions, the division of labor, which Marx thought could have been avoided, became inevitable. Every worker
1 From 1920 to 1930, in a period of intense productivity, the number of metallurgical workers decreased in the
United States, while the number of salesmen working for the same industry almost doubled.
has been brought to the point of performing a particular function without knowing the over-all plan into
which his work will fit. Those who co-ordinate individual work have formed, by their very function, a
class whose social importance is decisive.
It is only fair to point out that this era of technocracy announced by Burnham was described, about twenty
years ago, by Simone Weil in a form that can be considered complete, without drawing Burnham's
unacceptable conclusions. To the two traditional forms of oppression known to humanity—oppression by
armed force and by wealth— Simone Weil adds a third—oppression by occupation. "One can abolish the
opposition between the buyer and the seller of work," she wrote, "without abolishing the opposition
between those who dispose of the machine and those of whom the machine disposes." The Marxist plan
to abolish the degrading opposition of intellectual work to manual work has come into conflict with the
demands of production, which elsewhere Marx exalted. Marx undoubtedly foresaw, in Das Kapital, the
importance of the "manager" on the level of maximum concentration of capital. But he did not believe
that this concentration of capital could survive the abolition of private property. Division of labor and
private property, he said, are identical expressions. History has demonstrated the contrary. The ideal
regime based on collective property could be defined, according to Lenin, as justice plus electricity. In the
final analysis it is only electricity, without justice.
The idea of a mission of the proletariat has not, so far, been able to formulate itself in history: this sums
up the failing of the Marxist prophecy. The failure of the Second International has proved that the
proletariat was influenced by other things as well as its economic condition and that, contrary to the
famous formula, it had a fatherland. The majority of the proletariat accepted or submitted to the war and
collaborated, willy-nilly, in the nationalist excesses of the times. Marx intended that the working classes
before they triumphed should have acquired legal and political acumen. His error lay only in believing
that extreme poverty, and particularly industrial poverty, could lead to political maturity. Moreover, it is
quite certain that the revolutionary capacity of the masses was
curtailed by the decapitation of the libertarian revolution, during and after the Commune. After all, Marxism easily
dominated the working-class movement from 1872 on, undoubtedly because of its own strength, but also because
the only socialist tradition that could have opposed it had been drowned in blood; there were practically no Marxists
among the insurgents of 1871. This automatic purification of revolution has been continued, thanks to the activities
of police states, until our times. More and more, revolution has found itself delivered into the hands of its
bureaucrats and doctrinaires on the one hand, and to enfeebled and bewildered masses on the other. When the
revolutionary elite are guillotined and when Talleyrand is left alive, who will oppose Bonaparte? But to these
historical reasons are added economic necessities. The passages by Simone Weil on the condition of the factory
worker2must be read in order to realize to what degree of moral exhaustion and silent despair the rationalization of
labor can lead. Simone Weil is right in saying that the worker's condition is doubly inhumane in that he is first
deprived of money and then of dignity. Work in which one can have an interest, creative work, even though it is
badly paid, does not degrade life. Industrial socialism has done nothing essential to alleviate the condition of the
workers because it has not touched on the very principle of production and the organization of labor, which, on the
contrary, it has extolled. It even went so far as to offer the worker a historic justification of his lot of much the same
value as a promise of celestial joys to one who works himself to death; never did it attempt to give him the joy of
creation. The political form of society is no longer in question at this level, but the beliefs of a technical civilization
on which capitalism and socialism are equally dependent. Any ideas that do not advance the solution of this problem
hardly touch on the misfortunes of the worker.
Only through the interplay of economic forces, so much admired byMarx, has the proletariat been able to reject the
historical mission with which Marx had rightly charged it. His error can be excused because, confronted with the
debasement of the ruling classes, a man who has the future of civilization at heart instinctively looks for
2 La Condition ouvriere (Paris: Gallimard).
an elite as a replacement. But this instinctive search is not, in itself alone, creative. The revolutionary
bourgeoisie seized power in 1789 because they already had it. At this period legality, as Jules Monnerot
says, was lagging behind the facts. The facts were that the bourgeoisie were already in possession of the
posts of command and of the new power: money. The proletariat were not at all in the same position,
having only their poverty and their hopes and being kept in their condition of misery by the bourgeoisie.
The bourgeois class debased itself by a mania for production and material power, while the very
organization of this mania made the creation of an elite impossible.3 But criticism of this organization and
the development of rebel conscience could, on the contrary, forge a reserve elite. Only revolutionary trade
unionism, with Pelloutier and Sorel, embarked on this course and wanted to create, by professional and
cultural education, new cadres for which a world without honor was calling and still calls. But that could
not be accomplished in a day and the new masters were already on the scene, interested in making
immediate use of human unhappiness for the sake of happiness in the distant future, rather than in
relieving as much and as soon as possible the suffering of millions of men. The authoritarian socialists
deemed that history was going too slowly and that it was necessary, in order to hurry it on, to entrust the
mission of the proletariat to a handful of doctrinaires. For that very reason they have been the first to deny
this mission. Nevertheless it exists, not in the exclusive sense that Marx gives it, but in the sense that a
mission exists for any human group which knows how to derive pride and fecundity from its labors and
its sufferings. So that it can manifest itself, however, a risk must be taken and confidence put in workingclass
freedom and spontaneity. Authoritarian socialism, on the contrary, has confiscated this living
freedom for the
3 Lenin was the first to record this truth, but without any apparent bitterness. If his words are terrible for
revolutionary hopes, they are no less so for Lenin himself. He dared to say, in fact, that the masses would
more easily accept bureaucratic and dictatorial centralism because "discipline and organization are
assimilated more easily by the proletariat, thanks to the hard school of the factory."
benefit of an ideal freedom, which is yet to come. In so doing, whether it wished to or not, it reinforced
the attempt at enslavement begun by industrial capitalism. By the combined action of these two factors
and during a hundred and fifty years, except in the Paris of the Commune, which was the last refuge of
rebel revolution, the proletariat has had no other historical mission but to be betrayed. The workers fought
and died to give power to the military or to intellectuals who dreamed of becoming military and who
would enslave them in their turn. This struggle, however, has been the source of their dignity, a fact that
is recognized by all who have chosen to share their aspirations and their misfortunes. But this dignity has
been acquired in opposition to the whole clan of old and new masters. At the very moment when they
dare to make use of it, it denies them. In one sense, it announces their eclipse.
The economic predictions of Marx have, therefore, been at least called in question by reality. What
remains true in his vision of the economic world is the establishment of a society more and more defined
by the rhythm of production. But he shared this concept, in the enthusiasm of his period, with bourgeois
ideology. The bourgeois illusions concerning science and technical progress, shared by the authoritarian
socialists, gave birth to the civilization of the machine-tamers, which can, through the stresses of
competition and the desire for domination, be separated into enemy blocs, but which on the economic
plane is subject to identical laws: the accumulation of capital and rationalized and continually increasing
production. The political difference, which concerns the degree of omnipotence of the State, is
appreciable, but can be reduced by economic evolution. Only the difference in ethical concepts —formal
virtue as opposed to historical cynicism—seems substantial. But the imperative of production dominates
both universes and makes them, on the economic plane, one world.4
In any event, if the economic imperative can no longer
4 It is worth specifying that productivity is only injurious when it is considered as an end, not as a means,
in which case it could have a liberating effect.
be denied,5 its consequences are not what Marx imagined. Economically speaking, capitalism becomes oppressive
through the phenomenon of accumulation. It is oppressive through being what it is, it accumulates in order to
increase what it is, to exploit it all the more, and accordingly to accumulate still more. At that moment accumulation
would be necessary only to a very small extent in order to guarantee social benefits. But the revolution, in its turn,
becomes industrialized and realizes that, when accumulation is an attribute of technology itself, and not of
capitalism, the machine finally conjures up the machine. Every form of collectivity, fighting for survival, is forced to
accumulate instead of distributing its revenues. It accumulates in order to increase in size and so to increase in
power. Whether bourgeois or socialist, it postpones justice for a later date, in the interests of power alone. But power
opposes other forms of power. It arms and rearms because others are arming and rearming. It does not stop
accumulating and will never cease to do so until the day when perhaps it will reign alone on earth. Moreover, for
that to happen, it must pass through a war. Until that day the proletariat will receive only the bare minimum for its
subsistence. The revolution compels itself to construct, at a great expenditure in human lives, the industrial and
capitalist intermediary that its own system demands. Revenue is replaced by human labor. Slavery then becomes the
general condition, and the gates of heaven remain locked. Such is the economic law governing a world that lives by
the cult of production, and the reality is even more bloody than the law. Revolution, in the dilemma into which it has
been led by its bourgeois opponents and its nihilist supporters, is nothing but slavery. Unless it changes its principles
and its path, it can have no other final result than servile rebellions, obliterated in blood or the hideous
5 Although it was deniable—until the eighteenth century— during all the period in which Marx thought he had
discovered it. Historical examples in which the conflict between forms of civilization did not end in progress in
methods of production: destruction of the Mycenaean civilization, invasion of Rome by the barbarians, expulsion of
the Moors from Spain, extermination of the Albigenses.
prospect of atomic suicide. The will to power, the nihilist struggle for domination and authority, have
done considerably more than sweep away the Marxist Utopia. This has become in its turn a historic fact
destined to be put to use like all the other historic facts. This idea, which was supposed to dominate
history, has become lost in history; the concept of abolishing means has been reduced to a means in itself
and cynically manipulated for the most banal and bloody ends. The uninterrupted development of
production has not ruined the capitalist regime to the benefit of the revolution. It has equally been the ruin
of both bourgeois and revolutionary society to the benefit of an idol that has the snout of power.
How could a so-called scientific socialism conflict to such a point with facts? The answer is easy: it was
not scientific. On the contrary, its defeat resulted from a method ambiguous enough to wish to be
simultaneously determinist and prophetic, dialectic and dogmatic. If the mind is only the reflection of
events, it cannot anticipate their progress, except by hypothesis. If Marxist theory is determined by
economics, it can describe the past history of production, not its future, which remains in the realms of
probability. The task of historical materialism can only be to establish a method of criticism of
contemporary society; it is only capable of making suppositions, unless it abandons its scientific attitude,
about the society of the future. Moreover, is it not for this reason that its most important work is called
Capital and not Revolution? Marx and the Marxists allowed themselves to prophesy the future and the
triumph of communism to the detriment of their postulates and of scientific method.
Then predictions could be scientific, on the contrary, only by ceasing to prophesy definitively. Marxism is
not scientific; at the best, it has scientific prejudices. It brought out into the open the profound difference
between scientific reasoning, that fruitful instrument of research, of thought, and even of rebellion, and
historical reasoning, which German ideology invented by its negation of all principles. Historical
reasoning is not a type of reasoning that, within the framework of its own functions, can pass judgment on
the world. While pretending to judge it, it
really tries to determine its course. Essentially a part of events, it directs them and is simultaneously pedagogic and
all-conquering. Moreover, its most abstruse descriptions conceal the most simple truths. If man is reduced to being
nothing but a character in history, he has no other choice but to subside into the sound and fury of a completely
irrational history or to endow history with the form of human reason. Therefore the history of contemporary nihilism
is nothing but a prolonged endeavor to give order, by human forces alone and simply by force, to a history no longer
endowed with order. The pseudo-reasoning ends by identifying itself with cunning and strategy, while waiting to
culminate in the ideological Empire. What part could science play in this concept? Nothing is less determined on
conquest than reason. History is not made with scientific scruples; we are even condemned to not making history
from the moment when we claim to act with scientific objectivity. Reason does not preach, or if it does, it is no
longer reason. That is why historical reason is an irrational and romantic form of reason, which sometimes recalls
the false logic of the insane and at other times the mystic affirmation of the word.
The only really scientific aspect of Marxism is to be found in its preliminary rejection of myths and in its exposure
of the crudest kind of interests. But in this respect Marx is not more scientific in his attitude than La Rochefoucauld;
and that is just the attitude that he abandons when he embarks on prophecy. Therefore it is not surprising that, to
make Marxism scientific and to preserve this fiction, which is very useful in this century of science, it has been a
necessary first step to render science Marxist through terror. The progress of science, since Marx, has roughly
consisted in replacing determinism and the rather crude mechanism of its period by a doctrine of provisional
probability. Marx wrote to Engels that the Darwinian theory constituted the very foundation of their method. For
Marxism to remain infallible, it has therefore been necessary to deny all biological discoveries made since Darwin.
As it happens that all discoveries since the unexpected mutations established by De Vries have consisted in
introducing, contrary to the doctrines of determinism, the idea of chance into biology, it has been necessary to
entrust
Lyssenko with the task of disciplining chromosomes and of demonstrating once again the truth of the most
elementary determinism. That is ridiculous: but put a police force under Flaubert's Monsieur Homais and he would
no longer be ridiculous, and there we have the twentieth century. As far as that is concerned, the twentieth century
has also witnessed the denial of the principle of indeter-minism in science, of limited relativity, of the quantum
theory,6 and, finally, of every general tendency of contemporary science. Marxism is only scientific today in
defiance of Heisenberg, Bohr, Einstein, and all the greatest minds of our time. After all, there is really nothing
mysterious about the principle that consists in using scientific reasoning to the advantage of a prophecy. This has
already been named the principle of authority, and it is this that guides the Churches when they wish to subject
living reason to dead faith and freedom of the intellect to the maintenance of temporal power.
Finally, there remains of Marx's prophecy—henceforth in conflict with its two principles, economy and science—
only the passionate annunciation of an event that will take place in the very far future. The only recourse of the
Marxists consists in saying that the delays are simply longer than was imagined and that one day, far away in the
future, the end will justify all. In other words, we are in purgatory and we are promised that there will be no hell.
And so the problem that is posed is of another order. If the struggle waged by one or two generations throughout a
period of economic evolution which is, perforce, beneficial suffices to bring about a classless society, then the
necessary sacrifice becomes comprehensible to the man with a militant turn of mind; the future for him has a
concrete aspect—the aspect of his child, for instance. But if, when the sacrifice of several generations has proved
insufficient, we must then embark on an infinite period of universal strife one thousand times more destructive than
before, then the conviction of faith is needed in order to accept the necessity of killing and
6 Roger Callois, in Critique du Marxisme (Paris: Galli-mard), remarks that Stalinism objects to the quantum theory,
but makes use of atomic science, which is derived from it.
dying. This new faith is no more founded on pure reason than were the ancient faiths.
In what terms is it possible to imagine this end of history? Marx did not fall back on Hegel's terms. He said, rather
obscurely, that communism was only a necessary aspect of the future of humanity, and did not comprise the entire
future. But either communism does not terminate the history of contradictions and suffering, and then it is no longer
possible to see how one can justify so much effort and sacrifice; or it does terminate it, and it is no longer possible to
imagine the continuation of history except as an advance toward this perfected form of society. Thus a mystic idea is
arbitrarily introduced into a description that claims to be scientific. The final disappearance of political economy—
the favorite theme of Marx and Engels—signifies the end of all suffering. Economics, in fact, coincides with pain
and suffering in history, which disappear with the disappearance of history. We arrive at last in the Garden of Eden.
We come no nearer to solving the problem by declaring that it is not a question of the end of history, but of a leap
into the midst of a different history. We can only imagine this other history in terms of our own history; for man
they are both one and the same thing. Moreover, this other history poses the same dilemma. Either it is not the
solution of all contradictions and we suffer, die, and kill for almost nothing, or it is the solution of contradictions and
therefore, to all intents and purposes, terminates our history. Marxism, at this stage, is only justified by the definitive
city.
Can it be said, therefore, that this city of ends has a meaning? It has, in terms of the sacred universe, once the
religious postulate has been admitted. The world was created, it will have an end; Adam left Eden, humanity must
return there. It has no meaning, in the historical universe, if the dialectical postulate is admitted. The dialectic
correctly applied cannot and must not come to an end.7 The antagonistic terms of a historical situation can negate
one another and then be surmounted in a new synthesis.
7 See the excellent discussion by Jules Mounerot in Sociolo-gie du communisme, Part III.
But there is no reason why this new synthesis should be better than the original. Or rather there is only a reason for
this supposition, if one arbitrarily imposes an end to the dialectic, and if one then applies a judgment based on
outside values. If the classless society is going to terminate history, then capitalist society is, in effect, superior to
feudal society to the extent that it brings the advent of this classless society still nearer. But if the dialectic postulate
is admitted at all, it must be admitted entirely. Just as aristocratic society has been succeeded by a society without an
aristocracy but with classes, it must be concluded that the society of classes will be succeeded by a classless society,
but animated by a new antagonism still to be defined. A movement that is refused a beginning cannot have an end.
"If socialism," says an anarchist essayist,8 "is an eternal evolution, its means are its end." More precisely, it has no
ends; it has only means which are guaranteed by nothing unless by a value foreign to evolution. In this sense, it is
correct to remark that the dialectic is not and cannot be revolutionary. From our point of view, it is only nihilism—
pure movement that aims at denying everything which is not itself.
There is in this universe no reason, therefore, to imagine the end of history. That is the only justification, however,
for the sacrifices demanded of humanity in the name of Marxism. But it has no other reasonable basis but a petitio
principii, which introduces into history—a kingdom that was meant to be unique and self-sufficient— a value
foreign to history. Since that value is, at the same time, foreign to ethics, it is not, properly speaking, a value on
which one can base one's conduct; it is a dogma without foundation that can be adopted only as the desperate effort
to escape of a mind which is being stifled by solitude or by nihilism, or a value which is going to be imposed by
those whom dogma profits. The end of history is not an exemplary or a perfectionist value; it is an arbitrary and
terroristic principle.
Marx recognized that all revolutions before his time had failed. But he claimed that the revolution announced by him
must succeed definitively. Up to now, the workers' movement has lived on this affirmation which has been
8 Ernestan: Socialism and Freedom.
continually belied by facts and of which it is high time that the falsehood should be dispassionately
denounced. In proportion as the prophecy was postponed, the affirmation of the coming of the final
kingdom, which could only find the most feeble support in reason, became an article of faith. The sole
value of the Marxist world henceforth resides, despite Marx, in a dogma imposed on an entire ideological
empire. The kingdom of ends is used, like the ethics of eternity and the kingdom of heaven, for purposes
of social mystification. Elie Halevy declared himself unqualified to say if socialism was going to lead to
the universalization of the Swiss Republic or to European Caesarism. Nowadays we are better informed.
The prophecies of Nietzsche, on this point at least, are justified. Marxism is henceforth to win fame, in
defiance of its own teachings and, by an inevitable process of logic, by intellectual Caesarism, which we
must now finally describe. The last representative of the struggle of justice against grace, it takes over,
without having wanted to do so, the struggle of justice against truth. How to live without grace—that is
the question that dominates the nineteenth century. "By justice," answered all those who did not want to
accept absolute nihilism. To the people who despaired of the kingdom of heaven, they promised the
kingdom of men. The preaching of the City of Humanity increased in fervor up to the end of the
nineteenth century, when it became really visionary in tone and placed scientific certainties in the service
of Utopia. But the kingdom has retreated into the distance, gigantic wars have ravaged the oldest
countries of Europe, the blood of rebels has bespattered walls, and total justice has approached not a step
nearer. The question of the twentieth century—for which the terrorists of 1905 died and which tortures
the contemporary world—has gradually been specified: how to live without grace and without justice?
Only nihilism, and not rebellion, has answered that question. Up to now, only nihilism has spoken,
returning once more to the theme of the romantic rebels: "Frenzy." Frenzy in terms of history is called
power. The will to power came to take the place of the will to justice, pretending at first to be identified
with it and then relegating it to a place somewhere at the end of history, waiting until
such time as nothing remains on earth to dominate. Thus the ideological consequence has triumphed over
the economic consequence: the history of Russian Communism gives the lie to every one of its principles.
Once more we find, at the end of this long journey, metaphysical rebellion, which, this time, advances to
the clash of arms and the whispering of passwords, but forgetful of its real principles, burying its solitude
in the bosom of armed masses, covering the emptiness of its negations with obstinate scholasticism, still
directed toward the future, which it has made its only god, but separated from it by a multitude of nations
that must be overthrown and continents that must be dominated. With action as its unique principle, and
with the kingdom of man as an alibi, it has already begun, in the east of Europe, to construct its own
armed camp, face to face with other armed camps.

The Kingdom of Ends
Marx never dreamed of such a terrifying apotheosis. Nor, indeed, did Lenin though he took a decisive
step toward establishing a military Empire. As good a strategist as he was a mediocre philosopher, he first
of all posed himself the problem of the seizure of power. Let us note immediately that it is absolutely
false to talk, as is often done, of Lenin's Jacobinism. Only his idea of units of agitators and revolutionaries
is Jacobin. The Jacobins believed in principles and in virtue; they died because they had to deny them.
Lenin believes only in the revolution and in the virtue of expediency. "One must be prepared for every
sacrifice, to use if necessary every stratagem, ruse, illegal method, to be determined to conceal the truth,
for the sole purpose of penetrating the labor unions . . . and of accomplishing, despite everything, the
Communist task." The struggle against formal morality, inaugurated by Hegel and Marx, is found again in
Lenin with his criticism of inefficacious revolutionary attitudes. Complete dominion was the aim of this
movement.
If we examine the two works written at the beginning9 and at the end 1 of his career as an agitator, one is
9What to Do? (1902).
1 The State and the Revolution (1917).
struck by the fact that he never ceased to fight mercilessly against the sentimental forms of revolutionary action. He
wanted to abolish the morality of revolutionary action because he believed, correctly, that revolutionary power could
not be established while still respecting the Ten Commandments. When he appears, after his first experiments on the
stage of history, where he was to play such an important role, to see him take the world so freely and so naturally as
it had been shaped by the ideology and the economy of the preceding century, one would imagine him to be the first
man of a new era. Completely impervious to anxiety, to nostalgia, to ethics, he takes command, looks for the best
method of making the machine run, and decides that certain virtues are suitable for the driver of history's chariot and
that others are not. He gropes a little at first and hesitates as to whether Russia should first pass through the capitalist
and industrial phase. But this comes to the same as doubting whether the revolution can take place in Russia. He
himself is Russian and his task is to make the Russian Revolution. He jettisons economic fatalism and embarks on
action. He roundly declares, from 1902 on, that the workers will never elaborate an independent ideology by
themselves. He denies the spontaneity of the masses. Socialist doctrine supposes a scientific basis that only the
intellectuals can give it. When he says that all distinctions between workers and intellectuals must be effaced, what
he really means is that it is possible not to be proletarian and know better than the proletariat what its interests are.
He then congratulates Lassalle for having carried on a tenacious struggle against the spontaneity of the masses.
"Theory," he says, "should subordinate spontaneity." 2 In plain language, that means that revolution needs leaders
and theorists.
He attacks both reformism, which he considers guilty of dissipating revolutionary strength, and terrorism,3 which he
thinks an exemplary and inefficacious attitude. The revolution, before being either economic or sentimental,
2 Marx said much the same: "What certain proletarians, or even the entire proletariat, imagine to be their goal is of
no importance."
3 We know that his elder brother, who had chosen terrorism, was hanged.
is military. Until the day that the revolution breaks out, revolutionary action is identified with strategy.
Autocracy is its enemy, whose main source of strength is the police force, which is nothing but a corps of
professional political soldiers. The conclusion is simple: "The struggle against the political police
demands special qualities, demands professional revolutionaries." The revolution will have its
professional army as well as the masses, which can be conscripted when needed. This corps of agitators
must be organized before the mass is organized. A network of agents is the expression that Lenin uses,
thus announcing the reign of the secret society and of the realist monks of the revolution: "We are the
Young Turks of the revolution," he said, "with something of the Jesuit added." From that moment the
proletariat no longer has a mission. It is only one powerful means, among others, in the hands of the
revolutionary ascetics.4
The problem of the seizure of power brings in its train the problem of the State. The State and the
Revolution (1917), which deals with this subject, is the strangest and most contradictory of pamphlets.
Lenin employs in it his favorite method, which is the method of authority. With the help of Marx and
Engels, he begins by taking a stand against any kind of reformism which would claim to utilize the
bourgeois State—that organism of domination of one class over another. The bourgeois State owes its
survival to the police and to the army because it is primarily an instrument of oppression. It reflects both
the irreconcilable antagonism of the classes and the forcible subjugation of this antagonism. This
authority of fact is only worthy of contempt. "Even the head of the military power of a civilized State
must envy the head of the clan whom patriarchal society surrounded with voluntary respect, not with
respect imposed by the club." Moreover, Engels has firmly established that the concept of the State and
the concept of a free society are irreconcilable. "Classes will disappear as ineluctably as they appeared.
With the disappearance of classes, the State will inevitably disappear. The society that reorganizes
production on the basis of the free and equal association of the producers will
4 Heine already called the socialists "the new puritans." Puritanism and revolution go, historically,
together.
relegate the machine of State to the place it deserves: to the museum of antiquities, side by side with the spinningwheel
and the bronze ax."
Doubtless this explains why inattentive readers have ascribed the reason for writing The State and the Revolution to
Lenin's anarchistic tendencies and have regretted the peculiar posterity of a doctrine so severe about the army, the
police, the club, and bureaucracy. But Lenin's points of view, in order to be understood, must always be considered
in terms of strategy. If he defends so very energetically Engels's thesis about the disappearance of the bourgeois
State, it is because he wants, on the one hand, to put an obstacle in the way of the pure "economism" of Plekhanov
and Kautsky and, on the other, to demonstrate that Kerensky's government is a bourgeois government, which must
be destroyed. One month later, moreover, he destroys it.
It was also necessary to answer those who objected to the fact that the revolution itself had need of an administrative
and repressive apparatus. There again Marx and Engels are largely used to prove, authoritatively, that the proletarian
State is not a State organized on the lines of other states, but a State which, by definition, is in the process of
withering away. "As soon as there is no longer a social class which must be kept oppressed ... a State ceases to be
necessary. The first act by which the [proletarian] State really establishes itself as the representative of an entire
society—the seizure of the society's means of production—is, at the same time, the last real act of the State. For the
government of people is substituted the administration of things. . . . The State is not abolished, it perishes." The
bourgeois State is first suppressed by the proletariat. Then, but only then, the proletarian State fades away. The
dictatorship of the proletariat is necessary—first, to crush or suppress what remains of the bourgeois class;
secondly, to bring about the socialization of the means of production. Once these two tasks are accomplished, it
immediately begins to wither away.
Lenin, therefore, begins from the firm and definite principle that the State dies as soon as the socialization of the
means of production is achieved and the exploiting class has consequently been suppressed. Yet, in the same
pamphlet, he ends by justifying the preservation, even after the socialization of the means of production and, without
any predictable end, of the dictatorship of a revolutionary faction over the rest of the people. The pamphlet, which
makes continual reference to the experiences of the Commune, flatly contradicts the contemporary federalist and
anti-authoritarian ideas that produced the Commune; and it is equally opposed to the optimistic forecasts of Marx
and Engels. The reason for this is clear; Lenin had not forgotten that the Commune failed. As for the means of such
a surprising demonstration, they were even more simple: with each new difficulty encountered by the revolution, the
State as described by Marx is endowed with a supplementary prerogative. Ten pages farther on, without any kind of
transition, Lenin in effect affirms that power is necessary to crush the resistance of the exploiters "and also to direct
the great mass of the population, peasantry, lower middle classes, and semi-proletariat, in the management of the
socialist economy." The shift here is undeniable; the provisional State of Marx and Engels is charged with a new
mission, which risks prolonging its life indefinitely. Already we can perceive the contradiction of the Stalinist
regime in conflict with its official philosophy. Either this regime has realized the classless socialist society, and the
maintenance of a formidable apparatus of repression is not justified in Marxist terms, or it has not realized the
classless society and has therefore proved that Marxist doctrine is erroneous and, in particular, that the socialization
of the means of production does not mean the disappearance of classes. Confronted with its official doctrine, the
regime is forced to choose: the doctrine is false, or the regime has betrayed it. In fact, together with Nechaiev and
Tkachev, it is Lassalle, the inventor of State socialism, whom Lenin has caused to triumph in Russia, to the
detriment of Marx. From this moment on, the history of the interior struggles of the party, from Lenin to Stalin, is
summed up in the struggle between the workers' democracy and military and bureaucratic dictatorship; in other
words, between justice and expediency.
There is a moment's doubt about whether Lenin is not going to find a kind of means of conciliation when we hear
him praising the measures adopted by the Commune:
elected, revocable functionaries, remunerated like workers, and replacement of industrial bureaucracy by direct
workers' management.We even catch a glimpse of a federalist Lenin who praises the institution and representation
of the communes. But it becomes rapidly clear that this federalism is only extolled to the extent that it signifies the
abolition of parliamentarianism. Lenin, in defiance of every historical truth, calls it centralism and immediately puts
the accent on the . idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat, while reproaching the anarchists for their intransigence
concerning the State. At this point a new affirmation, based on Engels, is introduced which justifies the continuation
of the dictatorship of the proletariat after socialization, after the disappearance of the bourgeois class, and even after
control by the masses has finally been achieved. The preservation of authority will now have as limits those that are
prescribed for it by the very conditions of production. For example, the final withering away of the State will
coincide with the moment when accommodation can be provided for all, free of charge. It is the higher phase of
Communism: "To each according to his needs." Until then, the State will continue.
How rapid will be the development toward this higher phase of Communism when each shall receive according to
his needs? "That, we do not and cannot know. . . . We have no data that allow us to solve these questions." "For the
sake of greater clarity," Lenin affirms with his customary arbitrariness, "it has never been vouchsafed to any
socialist to guarantee the advent of the higher phase of Communism." It can be said that at this point freedom
definitely dies. From the rule of the masses and the concept of the proletarian revolution we first pass on to the idea
of a revolution made and directed by professional agents. The relentless criticism of the State is then reconciled with
the necessary, but provisional, dictatorship of the proletariat, embodied in its leaders. Finally, it is announced that
the end of this provisional condition cannot be foreseen and that, what is more, no one has ever presumed to promise
that there will be an end. After that it is logical that the autonomy of the Soviets should be contested, Makhno
betrayed, and the sailors of Kronstadt crushed by the party.
Undoubtedly, many of the affirmations of Lenin, who was a passionate lover of justice, can still be opposed to the
Stalinist regime; mainly, the notion of the withering away of the State. Even if it is admitted that the proletarian
State cannot disappear before many years have passed, it is still necessary, according to Marxist doctrine, that it
should tend to disappear and become less and less restrictive in order that it should be able to call itself proletarian.
It is certain that Lenin believed this trend to be inevitable and that, in this particular sense, he has been ignored. For
more than thirty years the proletarian State has shown no signs of progressive anemia. On the contrary, it seems to
be enjoying increasing prosperity. Meanwhile, in a lecture at the Sverdlov University two years later, under the
pressure of outside events and interior realities, Lenin spoke with a precision which left little doubt about the
indefinite continuation of the proletarian super-State. "With this machine, or rather this weapon [the State], we shall
crush every form of exploitation, and when there are no longer any possibilities of exploitation left on earth, no more
people owning land or factories, no more people gorging themselves under the eyes of others who are starving,
when such things become impossible, then and only then shall we cast this machine aside. Then there will be neither
State nor exploitation." Therefore as long as there exists on earth, and no longer in a specific society, one single
oppressed person and one proprietor, so long the State will continue to exist. It also will be obliged to increase in
strength during this period so as to vanquish one by one the injustices, the governments responsible for injustice, the
obstinately bourgeois nations, and the people who are blind to their own interests. And when, on an earth that has
finally been subdued and purged of enemies, the final iniquity shall have been drowned in the blood of the just and
the unjust, then the State, which has reached the limit of all power, a monstrous idol covering the entire earth, will
be discreetly absorbed into the silent city of Justice.
Under the easily predictable pressure of adverse imperialism, the imperialism of justice was born, in reality, with
Lenin. But imperialism, even the imperialism of justice, has no other end but defeat or world empire. Until
then it has no other means but injustice. From now on, the doctrine is definitively identified with the
prophecy. For the sake of justice in the far-away future, it authorizes injustice throughout the entire course
of history and becomes the type of mystification which Lenin detested more than anything else in the
world. It contrives the acceptance of injustice, crime, and falsehood by the promise of a miracle. Still
greater production, still more power, uninterrupted labor, incessant suffering, permanent war, and then a
moment will come when universal bondage in the totalitarian empire will be miraculously changed into
its opposite: free leisure in a universal republic. Pseudo-revolutionary mystification has now acquired a
formula: all freedom must be crushed in order to conquer the empire, and one day the empire will be the
equivalent of freedom. And so the way to unity passes through totality.

Totality and Trials
Totality is, in effect, nothing other than the ancient dream of unity common to both believers and rebels,
but projected horizontally onto an earth deprived of God. To renounce every value, therefore, amounts to
renouncing rebellion in order to accept the Empire and slavery. Criticism of formal values cannot pass
over the concept of freedom. Once the impossibility has been recognized of creating, by means of the
forces of rebellion alone, the free individual of whom the romantics dreamed, freedom itself has also been
incorporated in the movement of history. It has become freedom fighting for existence, which, in order to
exist, must create itself. Identified with the dynamism of history, it cannot play its proper role until
history comes to a stop, in the realization of the Universal City. Until then, every one of its victories will
lead to an antithesis that will render it pointless. The German nation frees itself from its oppressors, but at
the price of the freedom of every German. The individuals under a totalitarian regime are not free, even
though man in the collective sense is free. Finally, when the Empire delivers the entire human species,
freedom will reign over herds of slaves, who at least will be free in relation to God and,
in general, in relation to every kind of transcendence. The dialectic miracle, the transformation of quantity
into quality, is explained here: it is the decision to call total servitude freedom. Moreover, as in all the
examples cited by Hegel and Marx, there is no objective transformation, but only a subjective change of
denomination. In other words, there is no miracle. If the only hope of nihilism lies in thinking that
millions of slaves can one day constitute a humanity which will be freed forever, then history is nothing
but a desperate dream. Historical thought was to deliver man from subjection to a divinity; but this
liberation demanded of him the most absolute subjection to historical evolution. Then man takes refuge in
the permanence of the party in the same way that he formerly prostrated himself before the altar. That is
why the era which dares to claim that it is the most rebellious that has ever existed only offers a choice of
various types of conformity. The real passion of the twentieth century is servitude.
But total freedom is no more easy to conquer than individual freedom. To ensure man's empire over the
world, it is necessary to suppress in the world and in man everything that escapes the Empire, everything
that does not come under the reign of quantity: and this is an endless undertaking. The Empire must
embrace time, space, and people, which compose the three dimensions of history. It is simultaneously
war, obscurantism, and tyranny, desperately affirming that one day it will be liberty, fraternity, and truth;
the logic of its postulates obliges it to do so. There is undoubtedly in Russia today, even in its Communist
doctrines, a truth that denies Stalinist ideology. But this ideology has its logic, which must be isolated and
exposed if we wish the revolutionary spirit to escape final disgrace.
The cynical intervention of the armies of the Western powers against the Soviet Revolution demonstrated,
among other things, to the Russian revolutionaries that war and nationalism were realities in the same
category as the class struggle. Without an international solidarity of the working classes, a solidarity that
would come into play automatically, no interior revolution could be considered likely to survive unless an
international order were created.
From then on, it was necessary to admit that the Universal City could only be built on two conditions:
either by almost simultaneous revolutions in every big country, or by the liquidation, through war, of the
bourgeois nations; permanent revolution or permanent war. We know that the first point of view almost
triumphed. The revolutionary movements in Germany, Italy, and France marked the high point in
revolutionary hopes and aspirations. But the crushing of these revolutions and the ensuing reinforcement
of capitalist regimes have made war the reality of the revolution. Thus the philosophy of enlightenment
finally led to the Europe of the black-out. By the logic of history and of doctrine, the Universal City,
which was to have been realized by the spontaneous insurrection of the oppressed, has been little by little
replaced by the Empire, imposed by means of power. Engels, with the approval of Marx, dispassionately
accepted this prospect when he wrote in answer to Bakunin's Appeal to the Slavs: "The next world war
will cause the disappearance from the surface of the globe, not only of reactionary classes and dynasties,
but of whole races of reactionaries. That also is part of progress." That particular form of progress, in
Engels's mind, was destined to eliminate the Russia of the czars. Today the Russian nation has reversed
the direction of progress. War, cold and lukewarm, is the slavery imposed by world Empire. But now that
it has become imperialist, the revolution is in an impasse. If it does not renounce its false principles in
order to return to the origins of rebellion, it only means the continuation, for several generations and until
capitalism spontaneously decomposes, of a total dictatorship over hundreds of millions of men; or, if it
wants to precipitate the advent of the Universal City, it only signifies the atomic war, which it does not
want and after which any city whatsoever will only be able to contemplate complete destruction. World
revolution, by the very laws of the history it so imprudently deified, is condemned to the police or to the
bomb. At the same time, it finds itself confronted with yet another contradiction. The sacrifice of ethics
and virtue, the acceptance of all the means that it constantly justified by the end it pursued, can only be
accepted, if absolutely necessary, in terms of an end that is reasonably likely to be
realized. The cold war supposes, by the indefinite prolongation of dictatorship, the indefinite negation of this end.
The danger of war, moreover, makes this end highly unlikely. The extension of the Empire over the face of the earth
is an inevitable necessity for twentieth-century revolution. But this necessity confronts it with a final dilemma: to
construct new principles for itself or to renounce justice and peace, whose definitive reign it always wanted.
While waiting to dominate space, the Empire sees itself also compelled to reign over time. In denying every stable
truth, it is compelled to go to the point of denying the very lowest form of truth—the truth of history. It has
transported revolution, which is still impossible on a worldwide scale, back into a past that it is determined to deny.
Even that, too, is logical. Any kind of coherence that is not purely economic between the past and the future of
humanity supposes a constant which, in its turn, can lead to a belief in a human nature. The profound coherence that
Marx, who was a man of culture, had perceived as existing between all civilizations, threatened to swamp his thesis
and to bring to light a natural continuity, far broader in scope than economic continuity. Little by little, Russian
Communism has been forced to burn its bridges, to introduce a solution of continuity into the problem of historical
evolution. The negation of every genius who proves to be a heretic (and almost all of them do), the denial of the
benefits of civilization, of art—to the infinite degree in which it escapes from history—and the renunciation of vital
traditions, have gradually forced contemporary Marxism within narrower and narrower limits. It has not sufficed for
Marxism to deny or to silence the things in the history of the world which cannot be assimilated by its doctrine, or to
reject the discoveries of modern science. It has also had to rewrite history, even the most recent and the best-known,
even the history of the party and of the Revolution. Year by year, sometimes month by month, Pravda corrects
itself, and rewritten editions of the official history books follow one another off the presses. Lenin is censored, Marx
is not published. At this point comparison with religious obscurantism is no longer even fair. The Church never went
so far as to decide that
the divine manifestation was embodied in two, then in four, or in three, and then again in two, persons. The
acceleration of events that is part of our times also affects the fabrication of truth, which, accomplished at this speed,
becomes pure fantasy. As in the fairy story, in which all the looms of an entire town wove the empty air to provide
clothes for the king, thousands of men, whose strange profession it is, rewrite a presumptuous version of history,
which is destroyed the same evening while waiting for the calm voice of a child to proclaim suddenly that the king is
naked. This small voice, the voice of rebellion, will then be saying, what all the world can already see, that a
revolution which, in order to last, is condemned to deny its universal vocation, or to renounce itself in order to be
universal, is living by false principles.
Meanwhile, these principles continue to dominate the lives of millions of men. The dream of Empire, held in check
by the realities of time and space, gratifies its desires on humanity. People are not only hostile to the Empire as
individuals: in that case the traditional methods of terror would suffice. They are hostile to it in so far as human
nature, to date, has never been able to live by history alone and has always escaped from it by some means. The
Empire supposes a negation and a certainty: the certainty of the infinite malleability of man and the negation of
human nature. Propaganda techniques serve to measure the degree of this malleability and try to make reflection and
conditioned reflex coincide. Propaganda makes it possible to sign a pact with those who for years have been
designated as the mortal enemy. Even more, it allows the psychological effect thus obtained to be reversed and the
people, once again, to be aligned against this same enemy. The experiment has not yet been brought to an end, but
its principle is logical. If there is no human nature, then the malleability of man is, in fact, infinite. Political realism,
on this level, is nothing but unbridled romanticism, a romanticism of expediency.
In this way it is possible to explain why Russian Marxism rejects, in its entirety and even though it knows very well
how to make use of it, the world of the irrational. The irrational can serve the Empire as well as refute it. The
irrational escapes calculation, and calculation
alone must reign in the Empire. Man is only an interplay of forces that can be rationally influenced.
A few inconsiderate Marxists were rash enough to imagine that they could reconcile their doctrine with
Freud's, for example. Their eyes were opened for them quickly enough. Freud is a heretic thinker and a
"petit bourgeois" because he brought to light the unconscious and bestowed on it at least as much reality
as on the super or social ego. This unconscious mind can therefore define the originality of a human
nature opposed to the historic ego. Man, on the contrary, must be explained in terms of the social and
rational ego and as an object of calculation. Therefore it has been necessary to enslave not only each
individual life, but also the most irrational and the most solitary event of all, the expectancy of which
accompanies man throughout his entire life. The Empire, in its convulsive effort to found a definitive
kingdom, strives to integrate death.
A living man can be enslaved and reduced to the historic condition of an object. But if he dies in refusing
to be enslaved, he reaffirms the existence of another kind of human nature which refuses to be classified
as an object. That is why the accused is never produced and killed before the eyes of the world unless he
consents to say that his death is just and unless he conforms to the Empire of objects. One must die
dishonored or no longer exist— neither in life nor in death. In the latter event, the victim does not die, he
disappears. If he is punished, his punishment would be a silent protest and might cause a fissure in the
totality. But the culprit is not punished, he is simply replaced in the totality and thus helps to construct the
machine of Empire. He is transformed into a cog in the machinery of production, so indispensable that in
the long run he will not be used in production because he is guilty, but considered guilty because
production has need of him. The concentration-camp system of the Russians has, in fact, accomplished
the dialectical transition from the government of people to the administration of objects, but by
identifying people with objects.
Even the enemy must collaborate in the common endeavor. Beyond the confines of the Empire there is no
salvation. This is, or will be, the Empire of friendship.
But this friendship is the befriending of objects, for the friend cannot be preferred to the Empire. The
friendship of people—and there is no other definition of it—is specific solidarity, to the point of death,
against everything that is not part of the kingdom of friendship. The friendship of objects is friendship in
general, friendship with everything, which supposes—when it is a question of self-preservation—mutual
denunciation. He who loves his friend loves him in the present, and the revolution wants to love only a
man who has not yet appeared. To love is, in a certain way, to kill the perfect man who is going to be born
of the revolution. In order that one day he may live, he should from now on be preferred to anyone else.
In the kingdom of humanity, men are bound by ties of affection; in the Empire of objects, men are united
by mutual accusation. The city that planned to be the city of fraternity becomes an ant-heap of solitary
men.
On another plane, only a brute in a state of irrational fury can imagine that men should be sadistically
tortured in order to obtain their consent. Such an act only accomplishes the subjugation of one man by
another, in an outrageous relationship between persons. The representative of rational totality is content,
on the contrary, to allow the object to subdue the person in the soul of man. The highest mind is first of
all reduced to the level of the lowest by the police technique of joint accusation. Then five, ten, twenty
nights of insomnia will culminate an illusory conviction and will bring yet another dead soul into the
world. From this point of view, the only psychological revolution known to our times since Freud's has
been brought about by the NKVD and the political police in general. Guided by a determinist hypothesis
that calculates the weak points and the degree of elasticity of the soul, these new techniques have once
again thrust aside one of man's limits and have attempted to demonstrate that no individual psychology is
original and that the common measure of all human character is matter. They have literally created the
physics of the soul.
From that point on, traditional human relations have been transformed. These progressive transformations
characterize the world of rational terror in which, in different degrees, Europe lives. Dialogue and
personal relations have
been replaced by propaganda or polemic, which are two kinds of monologue. Abstraction, which belongs
to the world of power and calculation, has replaced the real passions, which are in the domain of the flesh
and of the irrational. The ration coupon substituted for bread; love and friendship submitted to a doctrine,
and destiny to a plan; punishment considered the norm, and production substituted for living creation,
quite satisfactorily describe this disembodied Europe, peopled with positive or negative symbols of
power. "How miserable," Marx exclaims, "is a society that knows no better means of defense than the
executioner!" But in Marx's day the executioner had not yet become a philosopher and at least made no
pretense of universal philanthropy.
The ultimate contradiction of the greatest revolution that history ever knew does not, after all, lie entirely
in the fact that it lays claim to justice despite an uninterrupted procession of violence and injustice. This is
an evil common to all times and a product of servitude or mystification. The tragedy of this revolution is
the tragedy of nihilism—it confounds itself with the drama of contemporary intelligence, which, while
claiming to be universal, is only responsible for a series of mutilations to men's minds. Totality is not
unity. The state of siege, even when it is extended to the very boundaries of the earth, is not
reconciliation. The claim to a universal city is supported in this revolution only by rejecting two thirds of
the world and the magnificent heritage of the centuries, and by denying, to the advantage of history, both
nature and beauty and by depriving man of the power of passion, doubt, happiness, and imaginative
invention—in a word, of his greatness. The principles that men give to themselves end by overwhelming
their noblest intentions. By dint of argument, incessant struggle, polemics, excommunications,
persecutions conducted and suffered, the universal city of free and fraternal man is slowly diverted and
gives way to the only universe in which history and expediency can in fact be elevated to the position of
supreme judges: the universe of the trial.
Every religion revolves around the concepts of innocence and guilt. Prometheus, the first rebel, however,
denies the right to punish. Zeus himself, Zeus above all, is
not innocent enough to exercise this right. Thus rebellion, in its very first manifestation, refuses to recognize
punishment as legitimate. But in his last incarnation, at the end of his exhausting journey, the rebel once more
adopts the religious concept of punishment and places it at the center of his universe. The supreme judge is no
longer in the heavens; history itself acts as an implacable divinity. History, in one sense, is nothing but a protracted
punishment, for the real reward will be reaped only at the end of time. We are far, it would seem, from Marxism and
from Hegel, and even farther from the first rebels. Nevertheless, all purely historical thought leads to the brink of
this abyss. To the extent to which Marx predicted the inevitable establishment of the classless city and to the extent
to which he thus established the good will of history, every check to the advance toward freedom must be imputed to
the ill will of mankind. Marx reintroduced crime and punishment into the unchristian world, but only in relation to
history. Marxism in one of its aspects is a doctrine of culpability on man's part and innocence on history's. His
interpretation of history is that when it is deprived of power, it expresses itself in revolutionary violence; at the
height of its power it risked becoming legal violence—in other words, terror and trial.
In the universe of religion, moreover, the final judgment is postponed; it is not necessary for crime to be punished
without delay or for innocence to be rewarded. In the new universe, on the other hand, the judgment pronounced by
history must be pronounced immediately, for culpability coincides with the check to progress and with punishment.
History has judged Bukarin in that it condemned him to death. It proclaims the innocence of Stalin: he is the most
powerful man on earth. It is the same with Tito, about whom we do not know, so we are told, whether he is guilty or
not. He is on trial, as was Trotsky, whose guilt only became clear to the philosophers of historical crime at the
moment when the murderer's ax cracked his skull. Tito has been denounced, but not yet struck down.When he has
been struck down, his guilt will be certain. Besides, Trotsky's and Tito's provisional innocence depended and
depends to a large extent on geography; they were far removed from the arm of secular power.
That is why those who can be reached by that arm must be judged without delay. The definitive judgment
of history depends on an infinite number of judgments which will have been pronounced between now
and then and which will finally be confirmed or invalidated. Thus there is the promise of mysterious
rehabilitations on the day when the tribunal of the world will be established by the world itself. Some,
who will proclaim themselves contemptible traitors, will enter the Pantheon of mankind; others who
maintain their innocence will be condemned to the hell of history. But who, then, will be the judge? Man
himself, finally fulfilled in his divinity. Meanwhile, those who conceived the prophecy, and who alone are
capable of reading in history the meaning with which they previously endowed it, will pronounce
sentence—definitive for the guilty, provisional sentences for the judges. But it sometimes happens that
those who judge, like Rajk, are judged in their turn. Must we believe that he no longer interpreted history
correctly? His defeat and death in fact prove it. Then who guarantees that those who judge him today will
not be traitors tomorrow, hurled down from the height of their judgment seat to the concrete caves where
history's damned are dying? The guarantee lies in their infallible clairvoyance. What proof is there of
that? Their uninterrupted success. The world of trial is a spherical world in which success and innocence
authenticate each other and where every mirror reflects the same mystification.
Thus there will be a historic grace,5 whose power alone can interpret events and which favors or
excommunicates the subject of the Empire. To guard against its caprices, the latter has only faith at his
disposal—faith as defined in the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius: "We should always be prepared, so
as never to err, to believe that what I see as white is black, if the hierarchic Church defines it thus." Only
this active faith held by the representatives of truth can save the subject from the mysterious ravages of
history. He is not yet free of the universe of trial to which he is bound by the historic sentiment of fear.
But without this faith he runs a perpetual
5 "The ruse of reason," in the historical universe, presents the problem of evil in a new form.
risk of becoming, without having wished to do so and with the best intentions in the world, an objective
criminal.
The universe of trial finally culminates in this concept, at which point we have come full circle. At the
end of this long insurrection in the name of human innocence, there arises, by an inevitable perversion of
fact, the affirmation of general culpability. Every man is a criminal who is unaware of being so. The
objective criminal is, precisely, he who believed himself innocent. His actions he con-' sidered
subjectively inoffensive, or even advantageous for the future of justice. But it is demonstrated to him that
objectively his actions have been harmful to that future. Are we dealing with scientific objectivity? No,
but with historical objectivity. How is it possible to know, for example, if the future of justice is
compromised by the unconsidered denunciation of present injustice? Real objectivity would consist in
judging by those results which can be scientifically observed and by facts and their general tendencies.
But the concept of objective culpability proves that this curious kind of objectivity is only based on
results and facts which will only become accessible to science in the year 2000, at the very earliest.
Meanwhile, it is embodied in an interminable subjectivity which is imposed on others as objectivity: and
that is the philosophic definition of terror. This type of objectivity has no definable meaning, but power
will give it a content by decreeing that everything of which it does not approve is guilty. It will consent to
say, or allow to be said, to philosophers who live outside the Empire, that in this way it is taking a risk in
regard to history, just as the objective culprit took a risk, though without knowing it. When victim and
executioner have disappeared, the matter will be judged. But this consolation is of any value only to the
executioner, who has really no need of it. Meanwhile, the faithful are regularly bidden to attend strange
feasts where, according to scrupulous rites, victims overwhelmed with contrition are offered as sacrifice
to the god of history.
The express object of this idea is to prevent indifference in matters of faith. It is compulsory
evangelization. The law, whose function it is to pursue suspects, fabricates them. By fabricating them, it
converts them. In
bourgeois society, for example, every citizen is supposed to approve the law. In objective society every citizen will
be presumed to disapprove of it. Or at least he should always be ready to prove that he does not disapprove of it.
Culpability no longer has any factual basis; it simply consists of absence of faith, which explains the apparent
contradiction of the objective system. Under a capitalist regime, the man who says he is neutral is considered
objectively to be favorable to the regime. Under the regime of the Empire, the man who is neutral is considered
hostile objectively to the regime. There is nothing astonishing about that. If a subject of the Empire does not believe
in the Empire, he is, of his own choice, nothing, historically speaking; therefore he takes sides against history and is,
in other words, a blasphemer. Even lip service paid to faith will not suffice; it must be lived and acted upon in order
to be served properly and the citizen must be always on the alert to consent in time to the changes in dogma. At the
slightest error potential culpability becomes in its turn objective culpability. Consummating its history in this
manner, the revolution is not content with killing all rebellion. It insists on holding every man, even the most servile,
responsible for the fact that rebellion ever existed and still exists under the sun. In the universe of the trial,
conquered and completed at last, a race of culprits will endlessly shuffle toward an impossible innocence, under the
grim regard of the grand inquisitors. In the twentieth century power wears the mask of tragedy.
Here ends Prometheus' surprising itinerary. Proclaiming his hatred of the gods and his love of mankind, he turns
away from Zeus with scorn and approaches mortal men in order to lead them in an assault against the heavens. But
men are weak and cowardly; they must be organized. They love pleasure and immediate happiness; they must be
taught to refuse, in order to grow up, immediate rewards. Thus Prometheus, in his turn, becomes a master who first
teaches and then commands. Men doubt that they can safely attack the city of light and are even uncertain whether
the city exists. They must be saved from themselves. The hero then tells them that he, and he alone, knows the city.
Those who doubt his word will be
thrown into the desert, chained to a rock, offered to the vultures. The others will march henceforth in
darkness, behind the pensive and solitary master. Prometheus alone has become god and reigns over the
solitude of men. But from Zeus he has gained only solitude and cruelty; he is no longer Prometheus, he is
Caesar. The real, the eternal Prometheus has now assumed the aspect of one of his victims. The same cry,
springing from the depths of the past, rings forever through the Scythian desert.

Rebellion and Revolution
The revolution based on principles kills God in the person of His representative on earth. The revolution
of the twentieth century kills what remains of God in the principles themselves and consecrates historical
nihilism. Whatever paths nihilism may proceed to take, from the moment that it decides to be the creative
force of its period and ignores every moral precept, it begins to build the temple of Caesar. To choose
history, and history alone, is to choose nihilism, in defiance of the teachings of rebellion itself. Those who
rush blindly to history in the name of the irrational, proclaiming that it is meaningless, encounter
servitude and terror and finally emerge into the universe of concentration camps. Those who launch
themselves into it preaching its absolute rationality encounter servitude and terror and emerge into the
universe of the concentration camps. Fascism wants to establish the advent of the Nietzschean superman.
It immediately discovers that God, if He exists, may well be this or that, but He is primarily the master of
death. If man wants to become God, he arrogates to himself the power of life or death over others.
Manufacturer of corpses and of sub-men, he is a sub-man himself and not God, but the ignoble servant of
death. The rational revolution, on its part, wants to realize the total man described by Marx. The logic of
history, from the moment that it is totally accepted, gradually leads it, against its most passionate
convictions, to mutilate man more and more and to transform itself into objective crime. It is not
legitimate to identify the ends of Fascism with the ends of Russian Communism. The first represents the
exaltation of the executioner by the executioner; the second, more dramatic
in concept, the exaltation of the executioner by the victims. The former never dreamed of liberating all
men, but only of liberating a few by subjugating the rest. The latter, in its most profound principle, aims
at liberating all men by provisionally enslaving them all. It must be granted the grandeur of its intentions.
But, on the other hand, it is legitimate to identify the means employed by both with the political cynicism
that they have drawn from the same source, moral nihilism. Everything has taken place as though the
descendants of Stirner and of Nechaiev were making use of the descendants of Kaliayev and Proudhon.
The nihilists today are seated on thrones. Methods of thought which claim to give the lead to our world in
the name of revolution have become, in reality, ideologies of consent and not of rebellion. That is why
our period is the period of private and public techniques of annihilation.
The revolution, obedient to the dictates of nihilism, has in fact turned against its rebel origins. Man, who
hated death and the god of death, who despaired of personal survival, wanted to free himself in the
immortality of the species. But as long as the group does not dominate the world, as long as the species
does not reign, it is still necessary to die. Time is pressing, therefore; persuasion demands leisure, and
friendship a structure that will never be completed; thus terror remains the shortest route to immortality.
But these extremes simultaneously proclaim a longing for the primitive values of rebellion. The
contemporary revolution that claims to deny every value is already, in itself, a standard for judging
values. Man wants to reign supreme through the revolution. But why reign supreme if nothing has any
meaning? Why wish for immortality if the aspect of life is so hideous? There is no method of thought
which is absolutely nihilist except, perhaps, the method that leads to suicide, any more than there is
absolute materialism. The destruction of man once more affirms man. Terror and concentration camps are
the drastic means used by man to escape solitude. The thirst for unity must be assuaged, even in the
common grave. If men kill one another, it is because they reject mortality and desire immortality for all
men. Therefore, in one sense, they commit suicide. But they prove, at the same time, that they cannot
dispense with mankind; they
satisfy a terrible hunger for fraternity. "The human being needs happiness, and when he is unhappy, he needs
another human being." Those who reject the agony of living and dying wish to dominate. "Solitude is power," says
Sade. Power, today, because for thousands of solitary people it signifies the suffering of others, bears witness to the
need for others. Terror is the homage that the malignant recluse finally pays to the brotherhood of man.
But nihilism, if it does not exist, tries to do so; and that is enough to make the world a desert. This particular form of
madness is what has given our times their forbidding aspect. The land of humanism has become the Europe of today,
the land of inhumanity. But the times are ours and how can we disown them? If our history is our hell, still we
cannot avert our faces. This horror cannot be escaped, but is assumed in order to be ignored, by the very people who
accepted it with lucidity and not by those who, having provoked it, think that they have a right to pronounce
judgment. Such a plant could, in fact, thrive only in the fertile soil of accumulated iniquities. In the last throes of a
death struggle in which men are indiscriminately involved by the insanity of the times, the enemy remains the
fraternal enemy. Even when he has been denounced for his errors, he can be neither despised nor hated; misfortune
is today the common fatherland, and the only earthly kingdom that has fulfilled the promise.
The longing for rest and peace must itself be thrust aside; it coincides with the acceptance of iniquity. Those who
weep for the happy periods they encounter in history acknowledge what they want: not the alleviation but the
silencing of misery. But let us, on the contrary, sing the praises of the times when misery cries aloud and disturbs the
sleep of the surfeited rich! Maistre has already spoken of the "terrible sermon that the revolution preached to kings."
It preaches the same sermon today, and in a still more urgent fashion, to the dishonoured elite of the times. This
sermon must be heard. In every word and in every act, even though it be criminal, lies the promise of a value that we
must seek out and bring to light. The future cannot be foreseen and it may be that the renaissance is impossible.
Even though the historical dialectic is false and
criminal, the world, after all, can very well realize itself in crime and in pursuit of a false concept. This kind of
resignation is, quite simply, rejected here: we must stake everything on the renaissance.
Nothing remains for us, moreover, but to be reborn or to die. If we are at the moment in history when rebellion has
reached the point of its most extreme contradiction by denying itself, then it must either perish with the world it has
created or find a new object of faith and a new impetus. Before going any farther, this contradiction must at least be
stated in plain language. It is not a clear definition to say like the existentialists, for example (who are also subjected
for the moment to the cult of history and its contradictions) ,1 that there is progress in the transition from rebellion to
revolution and that the rebel is nothing if he is not revolutionary. The contradiction is, in reality, considerably more
restricted. The revolutionary is simultaneously a rebel or he is not a revolutionary, but a policeman and a bureaucrat
who turns against rebellion. But if he is a rebel, he ends by taking sides against the revolution. So much so that there
is absolutely no progress from one attitude to the other, but coexistence and endlessly increasing contradiction.
Every revolutionary ends by becoming either an oppressor or a heretic. In the purely historical universe that they
have chosen, rebellion and revolution end in the same dilemma: either police rule or insanity.
On this level, therefore, history alone offers no hope. It is not a source of values, but is still a source of nihilism. Can
one, at least, create values in defiance of history, on the single level of a philosophy based on eternity? That comes
to the same as ratifying historical injustice and the sufferings of man. To slander the world leads to the nihilism
defined by Nietzsche. Thought that is derived from history alone, like thought that rejects history completely,
deprives man of the means and the reason for living. The former drives him to the extreme decadence of "why live?"
the latter to "how live?" History, necessary but not
1 Atheist existentialism at least wishes to create a morality. This morality is still to be defined. But the real difficulty
lies in creating it without reintroducing into historical existence a value foreign to history.
sufficient, is therefore only an occasional cause. It is not absence of values, nor values themselves, nor
even the source of values. It is one occasion, among others, for man to prove the still confused existence
of a value that allows him to judge history. Rebellion itself makes us the promise of such a value.
Absolute revolution, in fact, supposes the absolute malleability of human nature and its possible reduction
to the condition of a historical force. But rebellion, in man, is the refusal to be treated as an object and to
be reduced to simple historical terms. It is the affirmation of a nature common to all men, which eludes
the world of power. History, undoubtedly, is one of the limits of man's experience; in this sense the
revolutionaries are right. But man, by rebelling, imposes in his turn a limit to history, and at this limit the
promise of a value is born. It is the birth of this value that the Caesarian revolution implacably combats
today because it presages its final defeat and the obligation to renounce its principles. The fate of the
world is not being played out at present, as it seemed it would be, in the struggle between bourgeois
production and revolutionary production; their end results will be the same. It is being played out between
the forces of rebellion and those of the Caesarian revolution. The triumphant revolution must prove by
means of its police, its trials, and its excommunications that there is no such thing as human nature.
Humiliated rebellion, by its contradictions, its sufferings, its continuous defeats, and its inexhaustible
pride, must give its content of hope and suffering to this nature.
"I rebel, therefore we exist," said the slave. Metaphysical rebellion then added: "we are alone," by which
we still live today. But if we are alone beneath the empty heavens, if we must die forever, how can we
really exist? Metaphysical rebellion, then, tried to construct existence with appearances. After which
purely historical thought came to say that to be was to act. We did not exist, but we should exist by every
possible means. Our revolution is an attempt to conquer a new existence, by action that recognizes no
moral strictures. That is why it is condemned to live only for history and in a reign of terror. Man is
nothing, according to the revolution, if he does not obtain from history, willingly or by force, unanimous
approval.
At this exact point the limit is exceeded, rebellion is first betrayed and then logically assassinated, for it
has never affirmed, in its purest form, anything but the existence of a limit and the divided existence that
we represent: it is not, originally, the total negation of all existence. Quite the contrary, it says yes and no
simultaneously. It is the rejection of one part of existence in the name of another part, which it exalts. The
more profound the exaltation, the more implacable is the rejection. Then, when rebellion, in rage or
intoxication, adopts the attitude of "all or nothing" and the negation of all existence and all human nature,
it is at this point that it denies itself. Only total negation justifies the concept of a totality that must be
conquered. But the affirmation of a limit, a dignity, and a beauty common to all men only entails the
necessity of extending this value to embrace everything and everyone and of advancing toward unity
without denying the origins of rebellion. In this sense rebellion, in its original authenticity, does not
justify any purely historical concept. Rebellion's demand is unity; historical revolution's demand is
totality. The former starts from a negative supported by an affirmative, the latter from absolute negation
and is condemned to every aspect of slavery in order to fabricate an affirmative that is dismissed until the
end of time. One is creative, the other nihilist. The first is dedicated to creation so as to exist more and
more completely; the second is forced to produce results in order to negate more and more completely.
The historical revolution is always obliged to act in the hope, which is invariably disappointed, of one day
really existing. Even unanimous consent will not suffice to create its existence. "Obey," said Frederick the
Great to his subjects; but when he died, his words were: "I am tired of ruling slaves." To escape this
absurd destiny, the revolution is and will be condemned to renounce, not only its own principles, but
nihilism as well as purely historical values in order to rediscover the creative source of rebellion.
Revolution, in order to be creative, cannot do without either a moral or metaphysical rule to balance the
insanity of history. Undoubtedly, it has nothing but scorn for the formal and mystifying morality to be
found in bourgeois society. But its folly has been to extend this scorn to every moral demand. At the very
sources of its inspiration and in its most profound transports is to be found a rule that is not formal but
that nevertheless can serve as a guide. Rebellion, in fact, says— and will say more and more explicitly—
that revolution must try to act, not in order to come into existence at some future date in the eyes of a
world reduced to acquiescence, but in terms of the obscure existence that is already made manifest in the
act of insurrection. This rule is neither formal nor subject to history, it is what can be best described by
examining it in its pure state—in artistic creation. Before doing so, let us only note that to the "I rebel,
therefore we exist" and the "We are alone" of metaphysical rebellion, rebellion at grips with history adds
that instead of killing and dying in order to produce the being that we are not, we have to live and let live
in order to create what we are.

Part FourRebellion and Art

Art is the activity that exalts and denies simultaneously. "No artist tolerates reality," says Nietzsche. That
is true, but no artist can get along without reality. Artistic creation is a demand for unity and a rejection of
the world. But it rejects the world on account of what it lacks and in the name of what it sometimes is.
Rebellion can be observed here in its pure state and in its original complexities. Thus art should give us a
final perspective on the content of rebellion.
The hostility to art shown by all revolutionary reformers must, however, be pointed out. Plato is
moderately reasonable. He only calls in question the deceptive function of language and exiles only poets
from his republic. Apart from that, he considers beauty more important than the world. But the
revolutionary movement of modern times coincides with an artistic process that is not yet completed. The
Reformation chooses morality and exiles beauty. Rousseau denounces in art a corruption of nature by
society. Saint-Just inveighs against the theater, and in the elaborate program he composes for the "Feast
of Reason" he states that he would like Reason to be impersonated by someone "virtuous rather than
beautiful." The French Revolution gave birth to no artists, but only to a great journalist, Desmoulins, and
to a clandestine writer, Sade. It guillotines the only poet of the times.1 The only great prose-writer2 took
refuge in London and pleaded the cause of Christianity and legitimacy. A little later the followers of
Saint-Simon demanded a "socially useful form
1 Andre Chenier. (ed.)
2 Francois Rene Chateaubriand, (ed.)
of art. "Art for progress" was a commonplace of the whole period, and one that Hugo revived, without
succeeding in making it sound convincing. Valles alone brings to his malediction of art a tone of
imprecation that gives it authenticity.
This tone is also employed by the Russian nihilists. Pisarev proclaims the deposition of aesthetic values,
in favor of pragmatic values. "I would rather be a Russian shoemaker than a Russian Raphael." A pair of
shoes, in his eyes, is more useful than Shakespeare. The nihilist Nekrassov, a great and moving poet,
nevertheless affirms that he prefers a piece of cheese to all of Pushkin. Finally, we are familiar with the
excommunication of art pronounced by Tolstoy. Revolutionary Russia finally even turned its back on the
marble statues of Venus and Apollo, still gilded by the Italian sun, that Peter the Great had had brought to
his summer garden in St. Petersburg. Suffering, sometimes, turns away from too painful expressions of
happiness.
German ideology is no less severe in its accusations. According to the revolutionary interpreters of
Hegel's Phenomenology, there will be no art in reconciled society. Beauty will be lived and no longer
only imagined. Reality, become entirely rational, will satisfy, completely by itself, every appetite. The
criticism of formal conscience and of escapist values naturally extends itself to embrace art. Art does not
belong to all times; it is determined, on the contrary, by its period, and expresses, says Marx, the
privileged values of the ruling classes. Thus there is only one revolutionary form of art, which is,
precisely, art dedicated to the service of the revolution. Moreover, by creating beauty outside the course
of history, art impedes the only rational activity: the transformation of history itself into absolute beauty.
The Russian shoemaker, once he is aware of his revolutionary role, is the real creator of definitive beauty.
As for Raphael, he created only a transitory beauty, which will be quite incomprehensible to the new man.
Marx asks himself, it is true, how the beauty created by the Greeks can still be beautiful for us. His
answer is that this beauty is the expression of the naive childhood of this world and that we have, in the
midst of our adult struggles, a nostalgia for this childhood. But how can the
masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance, how can Rembrandt, how can Chinese art still be beautiful in our
eyes? What does it matter! The trial of art has been opened definitively and is continuing today with the
embarrassed complicity of artists and intellectuals dedicated to calumniating both their art and their
intelligence. We notice, in fact, that in the contest between Shakespeare and the shoemaker, it is not the
shoemaker who maligns Shakespeare or beauty but, on the contrary, the man who continues to read
Shakespeare and who does not choose to make shoes—which he could never make, if it comes to that.
The artists of our time resemble the repentant noblemen of nineteenth-century Russia; their bad
conscience is their excuse. But the last emotion that an artist can experience, confronted with his art, is
repentance. It is going far beyond simple and necessary humility to pretend to dismiss beauty, too, until
the end of time, and meanwhile, to deprive all the world, including the shoemaker, of this additional bread
of which one has taken advantage oneself.
This form of ascetic insanity, nevertheless, has its reasons, which at least are of interest to us. They
express on the aesthetic level the struggle, already described, of revolution and rebellion. In every
rebellion is to be found the metaphysical demand for unity, the impossibility of capturing it, and the
construction of a substitute universe. Rebellion, from this point of view, is a fabricator of universes. This
also defines art. The demands of rebellion are really, in part, aesthetic demands. All rebel thought, as we
have seen, is expressed either in rhetoric or in a closed universe. The rhetoric of ramparts in Lucretius, the
convents and isolated castles of Sade, the island or the lonely rock of the romantics, the solitary heights of
Nietzsche, the primeval seas of Lautreamont, the parapets of Rimbaud, the terrifying castles of the
surrealists, which spring up in a storm of flowers, the prison, the nation behind barbed wire, the
concentration camps, the empire of free slaves, all illustrate, after their own fashion, the same need for
coherence and unity. In these sealed worlds, man can reign and have knowledge at last.
This tendency is common to all the arts. The artist reconstructs the world to his plan. The symphonies of
nature know no rests. The world is never quiet; even its silence eternally resounds with the same notes, in
vibrations that escape our ears. As for those that we perceive, they carry sounds to us, occasionally a
chord, never a melody. Music exists, however, in which symphonies are completed, where melody gives
its form to sounds that by themselves have none, and where, finally, a particular arrangement of notes
extracts from natural disorder a unity that is satisfying to the mind and the heart.
"I believe more and more," writes Van Gogh, "that God must not be judged on this earth. It is one of His
sketches that has turned out badly." Every artist tries to reconstruct this sketch and to give it the style it
lacks. The greatest and most ambitious of all the arts, sculpture, is bent on capturing, in three dimensions,
the fugitive figure of man, and on restoring the unity of great style to the general disorder of gestures.
Sculpture does not reject resemblance, of which, indeed, it has need. But resemblance is not its first aim.
What it is looking for, in its periods of greatness, is the gesture, the expression, or the empty stare which
will sum up all the gestures and all the stares in the world. Its purpose is not to imitate, but to stylize and
to imprison in one significant expression the fleeting ecstasy of the body or the infinite variety of human
attitudes. Then, and only then, does it erect, on the pediments of teeming cities, the model, the type, the
motionless perfection that will cool, for one moment, the fevered brow of man. The frustrated lover of
love can finally gaze at the Greek caryatides and grasp what it is that triumphs, in the body and face of the
woman, over every degradation.
The principle of painting is also to make a choice. "Even genius," writes Delacroix, ruminating on his art,
"is only the gift of generalizing and choosing." The painter isolates his subject, which is the first way of
unifying it. Landscapes flee, vanish from the memory, or destroy one another. That is why the landscape
painter or the painter of still life isolates in space and time things that normally change with the light, get
lost in an infinite perspective, or disappear under the impact of other values. The first thing that a
landscape painter does is to square off his canvas. He eliminates as much as he includes.
Similarly, subject-painting isolates, in both time and space, an action that normally would become lost in
another action. Thus the painter arrives at a point of stabilization. The really great creative artists are
those who, like Piero della Francesca, give the impression that the stabilization has only just taken place,
that the projection machine has suddenly stopped dead. All their subjects give the impression that, by
some miracle of art, they continue to live, while ceasing to be mortal. Long after his death, Rembrandt's
philosopher still meditates, between light and shade, on the same problem.
"How vain a thing is painting that beguiles us by the resemblance to objects that do not please us at all."
Delacroix, who quotes Pascal's celebrated remark, is correct in writing "strange" instead of "vain." These
objects do not please us at all because we do not see them; they are obscured and negated by a perpetual
process of change. Who looked at the hands of the executioner during the Flagellation, and the olive trees
on the way to the Cross? But here we see them represented, transfigured by the incessant movement of
the Passion; and the agony of Christ, imprisoned in images of violence and beauty, cries out again each
day in the cold rooms of museums. A painter's style lies in this blending of nature and history, in this
stability imposed on incessant change. Art realizes, without apparent effort, the reconciliation of the
unique with the universal of which Hegel dreamed. Perhaps that is why periods, such as ours, which are
bent on unity to the point of madness, turn to primitive arts, in which styliza-tion is the most intense and
unity the most provocative. The most extreme stylization is always found at the beginning and end of
artistic movements; it demonstrates the intensity of negation and transposition which has given modern
painting its disorderly impetus toward interpreting unity and existence. Van Gogh's admirable complaint
is the arrogant and desperate cry of all artists. "I can very well, in life and in painting, too, do without
God. But I cannot, suffering as I do, do without something that is greater than I am, that is my life—the
power to create."
But the artist's rebellion against reality, which is automatically suspect to the totalitarian revolution,
contains the same affirmation as the spontaneous rebellion of the
oppressed. The revolutionary spirit, born of total negation, instinctively felt that, as well as refusal, there
was also consent to be found in art; that there was a risk of contemplation counterbalancing action,
beauty, and injustice, and that in certain cases beauty itself was a form of injustice from which there was
no appeal. Equally well, no form of art can survive on total denial alone. Just as all thought, and primarily
that of non-signification, signifies something, so there is no art that has no signification. Man can allow
himself to denounce the total injustice of the world and then demand a total justice that he alone will
create. But he cannot affirm the total hideousness of the world. To create beauty, he must simultaneously
reject reality and exalt certain of its aspects. Art disputes reality, but does not hide from it. Nietzsche
could deny any form of transcendence, whether moral or divine, by saying that transcendence drove one
to slander this world and this life. But perhaps there is a living transcendence, of which beauty carries the
promise, which can make this mortal and limited world preferable to and more appealing than any other.
Art thus leads us back to the origins of rebellion, to the extent that it tries to give its form to an elusive
value which the future perpetually promises, but of which the artist has a presentiment and wishes to
snatch from the grasp of history. We shall understand this better in considering the art form whose precise
aim is to become part of the process of evolution in order to give it the style that it lacks; in other words,
the novel.

Rebellion and the Novel
It is possible to separate the literature of consent, which coincides, by and large, with ancient history and
the classical period, from the literature of rebellion, which begins in modern times. We note the scarcity
of fiction in the former. When it exists, with very few exceptions, it is not concerned with a story but with
fantasy (Thea-genes and Charicleia or Astrcea). These are fairy tales, not novels. In the latter period, on
the contrary, the novel form is really developed—a form that has not ceased to thrive
and extend its field of activity up to the present day, simultaneously with the critical and revolutionary
movement. The novel is born at the same time as the spirit of rebellion and expresses, on the aesthetic
plane, the same ambition.
"A make-believe story, written in prose," says Littre about the novel. Is it only that? In any case, a
Catholic critic, Stanislas Fumet, has written: "Art, whatever its aims, is always in sinful competition with
God." Actually, it is more correct to talk about competition with God, in connection with the novel, than
of competition with man's civil status. Thibaudet expresses a similar idea when he says of Balzac: "The
Comedie humaine is the Imitation of God the Father." The aim of great literature seems to be to create a
closed universe or a perfect type. The West, in its great creative works, does not limit itself to retracing
the steps of its daily life. It consistently presents magnificent images which inflame its imagination and
sets off, hotfoot, in pursuit of them.
After all, writing or even reading a novel is an unusual activity. To construct a story by a new
arrangement of actual facts has nothing inevitable or even necessary about it. Even if the ordinary
explanation of the mutual pleasure of reader and writer were true, it would still be necessary to ask why it
was incumbent on a large part of humanity to take pleasure and an interest in make-believe stories.
Revolutionary criticism condemns the novel in its pure form as being simply a means of escape for an idle
imagination. In everyday speech we find the term romance used to describe an exaggerated description or
lying account of some event. Not so very long ago it was a commonplace that young girls, despite all
appearance to the contrary, were "romantic," by which was meant that these idealized creatures took no
account of everyday realities. In general, it has always been considered that the romantic was quite
separate from life and that it enhanced it while, at the same time, betraying it. The simplest and most
common way of envisaging romantic expression is to see it as an escapist exercise. Common sense joins
hands with revolutionary criticism.
But from what are we escaping by means of the
novel? From a reality we consider too overwhelming? Happy people read novels, too, and it is an
established fact that extreme suffering takes away the taste for reading. From another angle, the romantic
universe of the novel certainly has less substance than the other universe where people of flesh and blood
harass us without respite. However, by what magic does Adolphe, for instance, seem so much more
familiar to us than Benjamin Constant, and Count Mosca than our professional moralists? Balzac once
terminated a long conversation about politics and the fate of the world by saying: "And now let us get
back to serious matters," meaning that he wanted to talk about his novels. The incontestable importance
of the world of the novel, our insistence, in fact, on taking seriously the innumerable myths with which
we have been provided for the last two centuries by the genius of writers, is not fully explained by the
desire to escape. Romantic activities undoubtedly imply a rejection of reality. But this rejection is not a
mere escapist flight, and might be interpreted as the retreat of the soul which, according to Hegel, creates
for itself, in its disappointment, a fictitious world in which ethics reigns alone. The edifying novel,
however, is far from being great literature; and the best of all romantic novels, Paul et Virginie, a really
heartbreaking book, makes no concessions to consolation.
The contradiction is this: man rejects the world as it is, without accepting the necessity of escaping it. In
fact, men cling to the world and by far the majority do not want to abandon it. Far from always wanting to
forget it, they suffer, on the contrary, from not being able to possess it completely enough, estranged
citizens of the world, exiled from their own country. Except for vivid moments of fulfillment, all reality
for them is incomplete. Their actions escape them in the form of other actions, return in unexpected
guises to judge them, and disappear like the water Tantalus longed to drink, into some still undiscovered
orifice. To know the whereabouts of the orifice, to control the course of the river, to understand life, at
last, as destiny—these are their true aspirations. But this vision which, in the realm of consciousness at
least, will reconcile them with themselves, can only appear, if it ever does appear, at the fugitive moment
that is death, in which
everything is consummated. In order to exist just once in the world, it is necessary never again to exist.
At this point is born the fatal envy which so many men feel of the lives of others. Seen from a distance,
these existences seem to possess a coherence and a unity which they cannot have in reality, but which
seem evident to the spectator. He sees only the salient points of these lives without taking into account the
details of corrosion. Thus we make these lives into works of art. In an elementary fashion we turn them
into novels. In this sense, everyone tries to make his life a work of art. We want love to last and we know
that it does not last; even if, by some miracle, it were to last a whole lifetime, it would still be incomplete.
Perhaps, in this insatiable need for perpetuation, we should better understand human suffering if we knew
that it was eternal. It appears that great minds are sometimes less horrified by suffering than by the fact
that it does not endure. In default of inexhaustible happiness, eternal suffering would at least give us a
destiny. But we do not even have that consolation, and our worst agonies come to an end one day. One
morning, after many dark nights of despair, an irrepressible longing to live will announce to us the fact
that all is finished and that suffering has no more meaning than happiness.
The desire for possession is only another form of the desire to endure; it is this that comprises the
impotent delirium of love. No human being, even the most passionately loved and passionately loving, is
ever in our possession. On the pitiless earth where lovers are often separated in death and are always born
divided, the total possession of another human being and absolute communion throughout an entire
lifetime are impossible dreams. The desire for possession is insatiable, to such a point that it can survive
even love itself. To love, therefore, is to sterilize the person one loves. The shamefaced suffering of the
abandoned lover is not so much due to being no longer loved as to knowing that the other partner can and
must love again. In the final analysis, every man devoured by the overpowering desire to endure and
possess wishes that those whom he has loved were either sterile or dead. This is real rebellion. Those who
have not insisted, at least once, on the absolute virginity of human beings and of the
world, who have not trembled with longing and impotence at the fact that it is impossible, and have then
not been destroyed by trying to love halfheartedly, perpetually forced back upon their longing for the
absolute, cannot understand the realities of rebellion and its ravening desire for destruction. But the lives
of others always escape us, and we escape them too; they have no firm outline. Life from this point of
view is without style. It is only an impulse that endlessly pursues its form without ever finding it. Man,
tortured by this, tries in vain to find the form that will impose certain limits between which he can be
king. If only one single living thing had definite form, he would be reconciled!
There is not one human being who, above a certain elementary level of consciousness, does not exhaust
himself in trying to find formulas or attitudes that will give his existence the unity it lacks. Appearance
and action, the dandy and the revolutionary, all demand unity in order to exist, and in order to exist on
this earth. As in those moving and unhappy relationships which sometimes survive for a very long time
because one of the partners is waiting to find the right word, action, gesture, or situation which will bring
his adventure to an end on exactly the right note, so everyone proposes and creates for himself the final
word. It is not sufficient to live, there must be a destiny that does not have to wait for death. It is therefore
justifiable to say that man has an idea of a better world than this. But better does not mean different, it
means unified. This passion which lifts the mind above the commonplaces of a dispersed world, from
which it nevertheless cannot free itself, is the passion for unity. It does not result in mediocre efforts to
escape, however, but in the most obstinate demands. Religion or crime, every human endeavor in fact,
finally obeys this unreasonable desire and claims to give life a form it does not have. The same impulse,
which can lead to the adoration of the heavens or the destruction of man, also leads to creative literature,
which derives its serious content from this source.
What, in fact, is a novel but a universe in which action is endowed with form, where final words are
pronounced, where people possess one another completely,
and where life assumes the aspect of destiny? 3 The world of the novel is only a rectification of the world
we live in, in pursuance of man's deepest wishes. For the world is undoubtedly the same one we know.
The suffering, the illusion, the love are the same. The heroes speak our language, have our weaknesses
and our strength. Their universe is neither more beautiful nor more enlightening than ours. But they, at
least, pursue their destinies to the bitter end and there are no more fascinating heroes than those who
indulge their passions to the fullest, Kirilov and Stavrogin, Mme Graslin, Julien Sorel, or the Prince de
Cleves. It is here that we can no longer keep pace with them, for they complete things that we can never
consummate.
Mme de La Fayette derived the Princesse de Cleves from the most harrowing experiences. Undoubtedly
she is Mme de Cleves and yet she is not. Where lies the difference? The difference is that Mme de La
Fayette did not go into a convent and that no one around her died of despair. No doubt she knew
moments, at least, of agony in her extraordinary passion. But there was no culminating-point; she
survived her love and prolonged it by ceasing to live it, and finally no one, not even herself, would have
known its pattern if she had not given it the perfect delineation of faultless prose.
Nor is there any story more romantic and beautiful than that of Sophie Tonska and Casimir in Gobineau's
Pleiades. Sophie, a sensitive and beautiful woman, who makes one understand Stendahl's confession that
"only women of great character can make me happy," forces Casimir to confess his love for her.
Accustomed to being loved, she becomes impatient with Casimir, who sees her every day and yet never
departs from an attitude of irritating detachment. Casimir confesses his love, but in the tone of one stating
a legal case. He has studied it, knows it as well as he knows himself, and is convinced that this love,
without which he cannot live, has no future. He has therefore decided to tell her of his love and at the
same
3 Even if the novel describes only nostalgia, despair, frustration, it still creates a form of salvation. To talk
of despair is to conquer it. Despairing literature is a contradiction in terms.
time to acknowledge that it is vain and to make over his fortune to her—she is rich, and this gesture is of
no importance—on condition that she give him a very modest pension which will allow him to install
himself in the suburb of a town chosen at random (it will be Vilna) and there await death in poverty.
Casimir recognizes, moreover, that the idea of receiving from Sophie the necessary money on which to
live represents a concession to human weakness, the only one he will permit himself, with, at long
intervals, the dispatch of a blank sheet of paper in an envelope on which he will write Sophie's name.
After being first indignant, then perturbed, and then melancholy, Sophie accepts; and everything happens
as Casimir foresaw. He dies, in Vilna, of a broken heart. Romanticism thus has its logic. A story is never
really moving and successful without the imperturbable continuity which is never part of real life, but
which is to be found on the borderland between reality and reverie. If Gobineau himself had gone to Vilna
he would have got bored and come back, or would have settled down comfortably. But Casimir never
experienced any desire to change nor did he ever wake cured of his love. He went to the bitter end, like
Heathcliff, who wanted to go beyond death in order to reach the very depths of hell.
Here we have an imaginary world, therefore, which is created by the rectification of the actual world—a
world where suffering can, if it wishes, continue until death, where passions are never distracted, where
people are prey to obsessions and are always present to one another. Man is finally able to give himself
the alleviating form and limits which he pursues in vain in his own life. The novel creates destiny to suit
any eventuality. In this way it competes with creation and, provisionally, conquers death. A detailed
analysis of the most famous novels would show, in different perspectives each time, that the essence of
the novel lies in this perpetual alteration, always directed toward the same ends, that the artist makes in
his own experience. Far from being moral or even purely formal, this alteration aims, primarily, at unity
and thereby expresses a metaphysical need. The novel, on this level, is primarily an exercise of the
intelligence in the service of nostalgic or rebellious sensibilities. It would be possible to study
this quest for unity in the French analytical novel and in Melville, Balzac, Dostoievsky, or Tolstoy. But a brief
comparison between two attempts that stand at different poles of the world of the novel—the works of Proust and
American fiction of the last few years—will suffice for our purpose.
The American novel 4 claims to find its unity in reducing man either to elementals or to his external reactions and to
his behavior. It does not choose feelings or passions to give a detailed description of, such as we find in classic
French novels. It rejects analysis and the search for a fundamental psychological motive that could explain and
recapitulate the behavior of a character. This is why the unity of this novel form is only the unity of the flash of
recognition. Its technique consists in describing men by their outside appearances, in their most casual actions, of
reproducing, without comment, everything they say down to their repetitions,5 and finally by acting as if men were
entirely defined by their daily automatisms. On this mechanical level men, in fact, seem exactly alike, which
explains this peculiar universe in which all the characters appear interchangeable, even down to their physical
peculiarities. This technique is called realistic only owing to a misapprehension. In addition to the fact that realism
in art is, as we shall see, an incomprehensible idea, it is perfectly obvious that this fictitious world is not attempting
a reproduction, pure and simple, of reality, but the most arbitrary form of stylization. It is born of a mutilation, and
of a voluntary mutilation, performed on reality. The unity thus obtained is a degraded unity, a leveling off of human
beings and of the world. It would seem that for these writers it is the inner life that deprives human actions of unity
and that tears people away from one another. This is a partially legitimate suspicion. But rebellion, which is one of
the sources of the art of fiction, can find satisfaction only in constructing unity on the basis of affirming this interior
reality and not of denying it. To
4 I am referring, of course, to the "tough" novel of the thirties and forties and not to the admirable American
efflorescence of the nineteenth century.
5 Even in Faulkner, a great writer of this generation, the interior monologue only reproduces the outer husk of
thought.
deny it totally is to refer oneself to an imaginary man. Novels of violence are also love stories, of which
they have the formal conceits—in their own way, they edify.6 The life of the body, reduced to its
essentials, paradoxically produces an abstract and gratuitous universe, continuously denied, in its turn, by
reality. This type of novel, purged of interior life, in which men seem to be observed behind a pane of
glass, logically ends, with its emphasis on the pathological, by giving itself as its unique subject the
supposedly average man. In this way it is possible to explain the extraordinary number of "innocents"
who appear in this universe. The simpleton is the ideal subject for such an enterprise since he can only be
defined—and completely defined—by his behavior. He is the symbol of the despairing world in which
wretched automatons live in a machine-ridden universe, which American novelists have presented as a
heart-rending but sterile protest.
As for Proust, his contribution has been to create, from an obstinate contemplation of reality, a closed
world that belonged only to him and that indicated his victory over the transitoriness of things and over
death. But he uses absolutely the opposite means. He upholds, above everything, by a deliberate choice, a
careful selection of unique experience, which the writer chooses from the most secret recesses of his past.
Immense empty spaces are thus discarded from life because they have left no trace in the memory. If the
American novel is the novel of men without memory, the world of Proust is nothing but memory. It is
concerned only with the most difficult and most exacting of memories, the memory that rejects the
dispersion of the actual world and derives, from the trace of a lingering perfume, the secret of a new and
ancient universe. Proust chooses the interior life and, of the interior life, that which is more interior than
life itself in preference to what is forgotten in the world of reality— in other words, the purely mechanical
and blind aspects of the world. But by his rejection of reality he does not deny reality. He does not
commit the error, which would counterbalance the error of American fiction, of suppressing
6 Bernardin de Saint-Pierre and the Marquis de Sade, with different indications of it, are the creators of
the propagandist novel.
the mechanical. He unites, on the contrary, into a superior form of unity, the memory of the past and the
immediate sensation, the twisted foot and the happy days of times past.
It is difficult to return to the places of one's early happiness. The young girls in the flower of their youth
still laugh and chatter on the seashore, but he who watches them gradually loses his right to love them,
just as those he has loved lose the power to be loved. This melancholy is the melancholy of Proust. It was
powerful enough in him to cause a violent rejection of all existence. But his passion for faces and for the
light attached him at the same time to life. He never admitted that the happy days of his youth were lost
forever. He undertook the task of re-creating them and of demonstrating, in the face of death, that the past
could be regained at the end of time in the form of an imperishable present, both truer and richer than it
was at the beginning. The psychological analysis of Remembrance of Things Past is nothing but a potent
means to an end. The real greatness of Proust lies in having written Time Regained, which resembles the
world of dispersion and which gives it a meaning on the very level of integration. His difficult victory, on
the eve of his death, is to have been able to extract from the incessant flight of forms, by means of
memory and intelligence alone, the tentative trembling symbols of human unity. The most definite
challenge that a work of this kind can give to creation is to present itself as an entirety, as a closed and
unified world. This defines an unrepentant work of art.
It has been said that the world of Proust was a world without a god. If that is true, it is not because God is
never spoken of, but because the ambition of this world is to be absolute perfection and to give to eternity
the aspect of man. Time Regained, at least in its aspirations, is eternity without God. Proust's work, in this
regard, appears to be one of the most ambitious and most significant of man's enterprises against his
mortal condition. He has demonstrated that the art of the novel can reconstruct creation itself, in the form
that it is imposed on us and in the form in which we reject it. In one of its aspects, at least, this art consists
in choosing the creature in preference to his creator. But still more profoundly, it is allied
to the beauty of the world or of its inhabitants against the powers of death and oblivion. It is in this way
that his rebellion is creative.

Rebellion and Style
By the treatment that the artist imposes on reality, he declares the intensity of his rejection. But what he
retains of reality in the universe that he creates reveals the degree of consent that he gives to at least one
part of reality—which he draws from the shadows of evolution to bring it to the light of creation. In the
final analysis, if the rejection is total, reality is then completely banished and the result is a purely formal
work. If, on the other hand, the artist chooses, for reasons often unconnected with art, to exalt crude
reality, the result is then realism. In the first case the primitive creative impulse in which rebellion and
consent, affirmation and negation are closely allied is adulterated to the advantage of rejection. It then
represents formal escapism, of which our period has furnished so many examples and of which the nihilist
origin is quite evident. In the second case the artist claims to give the world unity by withdrawing from it
all privileged perspectives. In this sense, he confesses his need for unity, even a degraded form of unity.
But he also renounces the first requirement of artistic creation. To deny the relative freedom of the
creative mind more forcibly, he affirms the immediate totality of the world. The act of creation denies
itself in both these kinds of work. Originally, it refused only one aspect of reality while simultaneously
affirming another. Whether it comes to the point of rejecting all reality or of affirming nothing but reality,
it denies itself each time either by absolute negation or by absolute affirmation. It can be seen that, on the
plane of aesthetics, this analysis coincides with the analysis I have sketched on the historical plane.
But just as there is no nihilism that does not end by supposing a value, and no materialism that, being
self-conceived, does not end by contradicting itself, so formal art and realist art are absurd concepts. No
art can completely reject reality. The Gorgon is, doubtless, a purely
imaginary creature; its face and the serpents that crown it are part of nature. Formalism can succeed in
purging itself more and more of real content, but there is always a limit. Even pure geometry, where
abstract painting some- times ends, still derives its color and its conformity to I perspective from the
exterior world. The only real formal- ism is silence. Moreover, realism cannot dispense with a minimum
of interpretation and arbitrariness. Even the very best photographs do not represent reality; they result
from an act of selection and impose a limit on something that has none. The realist artist and the formal
artist try to find unity where it does not exist, in reality in its crudest state, or in imaginative creation
which wants to abolish all reality. On the contrary, unity in art appears at the limit of the transformation
that the artist imposes on reality. It cannot dispense with either. This correction7which the artist imposes
by his language and by a redistribution of elements derived from reality is called style and gives the recreated
universe its unity and its boundaries. It attempts, in the work of every rebel, to impose its laws on
the world, and succeeds in the case of a few geniuses. "Poets," said Shelley, "are the unacknowledged
legislators of the world."
Literary art, by its origins, cannot fail to illustrate this vocation. It can neither totally consent to reality nor
turn aside from it completely. The purely imaginary does not exist, and even if it did exist in an ideal
novel which would be purely disincarnate, it would have no artistic significance, in that the primary
necessity for a mind in search of unity is that the unity should be communicable. From another point of
view, the unity of pure reasoning is a false unity, for it is not based on reality. The sentimental love story,
the horror story, and the edifying novel deviate from art to the great or small extent that they disobey this
law. Real literary creation, on the other hand, uses reality and only reality with all its warmth and its
blood, its passion and its outcries. It simply adds something that transfigures reality.
7 Delacroix notes—and this is a penetrating observation—that it is necessary to correct the "inflexible
perspective which (in reality) falsifies the appearance of objects by virtue of precision."
Likewise, what is commonly called the realistic novel tries to be the reproduction of reality in its
immediate aspects. To reproduce the elements of reality without making any kind of selection would be,
if such an undertaking could be imagined, nothing but a sterile repetition of creation. Realism should only
be the means of expression of religious genius—Spanish art admirably illustrates this contention—or, at
the other extreme, the artistic expressions of monkeys, which are quite satisfied with mere imitation. In
fact, art is never realistic though sometimes it is tempted to be. To be really realistic a description would
have to be endless. Where Stendhal describes in one phrase Lucien Leuwen's entrance into a room, the
realistic artist ought, logically, to fill several volumes with descriptions of characters and settings, still
without succeeding in exhausting every detail. Realism is indefinite enumeration. By this it reveals that its
real ambition is conquest, not of the unity, but of the totality of the real world. Now we understand why it
should be the official aesthetic of a totalitarian revolution. But the impossibility of such an aesthetic has
already been demonstrated. Realistic novels select their material, despite themselves, from reality,
because the choice and the conquest of reality are absolute conditions of thought and expression.8 To
write is already to choose. There is thus an arbitrary aspect to reality, just as there is an arbitrary aspect to
the ideal, which makes a realistic novel an implicit problem novel. To reduce the unity of the world of
fiction to the totality of reality can only be done by means of an a priori judgment which eliminates form,
reality, and everything that conflicts with doctrine. Therefore so-called socialist realism is condemned by
the very logic of its nihilism to accumulate the advantages of the edifying novel and propaganda
literature.
Whether the event enslaves the creator or whether the creator claims to deny the event completely,
creation is nevertheless reduced to the degraded forms of nihilist art. It is the same thing with creation as
with civilization: it presumes uninterrupted tension between form and
8Delacroix demonstrated this again with profundity: "For realism not to be a word devoid of sense, all
men must have the same minds and the same way of conceiving things."
matter, between evolution and the mind, and between history and values. If the equilibrium is destroyed,
the result is dictatorship or anarchy, propaganda or formal insanity. In either case creation, which always
coincides with rational freedom, is impossible. Whether it succumbs to the intoxication of abstraction and
formal obscurantism, or whether it falls back on the whip of the crudest and most ingenious realism,
modern art, in its semi-totality, is an art of tyrants and slaves, not of creators.
A work in which the content overflows the form, or in which the form drowns the content, only bespeaks
an unconvinced and unconvincing unity. In this domain, as in others, any unity that is not a unity of style
is a mutilation. Whatever may be the chosen point of view of an artist, one principle remains common to
all creators: styli-zation, which supposes the simultaneous existence of reality and of the mind that gives
reality its form. Through style, the creative effort reconstructs the world, and always with the same slight
distortion that is the mark of both art and protest. Whether it is the enlargement of the microscope which
Proust brings to bear on human experience or, on the contrary, the absurd insignificance with which the
American novel endows its characters, reality is in some way artificial. The creative force, the fecundity
of rebellion, are contained in this distortion which the style and tone of a work represent. Art is an
impossible demand given expression and form. When the most agonizing protest finds its most resolute
form of expression, rebellion satisfies its real aspirations and derives creative energy from this fidelity to
itself. Despite the fact that this runs counter to the prejudices of the times, the greatest style in art is the
expression of the most passionate rebellion. Just as genuine classicism is only romanticism subdued,
genius is a rebellion that has created its own limits. That is why there is no genius, contrary to what we
are taught today, in negation and pure despair.
This means, at the same time, that great style is not a mere formal virtue. It is a mere formal virtue when
it is sought out for its own sake to the detriment of reality, but then it is not great style. It no longer
invents, but imitates—like all academic works—while real creation is, in its own fashion, revolutionary.
If stylization must
necessarily be rather exaggerated, since it sums up the intervention of man and the desire for rectification
which the artist brings to his reproduction of reality, it is nevertheless desirable that it should remain
invisible so that the demand which gives birth to art should be expressed in its most extreme tension.
Great style is invisible styliza-tion, or rather stylization incarnate. "There is never any need," says
Flaubert, "to be afraid of exaggeration in art." But he adds that the exaggeration should be "continuous
and proportionate to itself."When stylization is exaggerated and obvious, the work becomes nothing but
pure nostalgia; the unity it is trying to conquer has nothing to do with concrete unity. On the other hand,
when reality is delivered over to unadorned fact or to insignificant stylization, then the concrete is
presented without unity. Great art, style, and the true aspect of rebellion lie somewhere between these two
heresies.

Creation and Revolution
In art, rebellion is consummated and perpetuated in the act of real creation, not in criticism or
commentary. Revolution, in its turn, can only affirm itself in a civilization and not in terror or tyranny.
The two questions that are posed by our times to a society caught in a dilemma—Is creation possible? Is
the revolution possible?—are in reality only one question, which concerns the renaissance of civilization.
The revolution and art of the twentieth century are tributaries of the same nihilism and live in the same
contradiction. They deny, however, all that they affirm even in their very actions, and both try to find an
impossible solution through terror. The contemporary revolution believes that it is inaugurating a new
world when it is really only the contradictory climax of the old one. Finally capitalist society and
revolutionary society are one and the same thing to the extent that they submit themselves to the same
means—industrial production—and to the same promise. But one makes its promise in the name of
formal principles that it is quite incapable of incarnating and that are denied by the methods it employs.
The other justifies
its prophecy in the name of the only reality it recognizes, and ends by mutilating reality. The society
based on production is only productive, not creative.
Contemporary art, because it is nihilistic, also flounders between formalism and realism. Realism,
moreover, is just as much bourgeois, when it is "tough," as socialist when it becomes edifying. Formalism
belongs just as much to the society of the past, when it takes the form of gratuitous abstraction, as to the
society that claims to be the society of the future—when it becomes propaganda. Language destroyed by
irrational negation becomes lost in verbal delirium; subject to determinist ideology, it is summed up in the
slogan. Halfway between the two lies art. If the rebel must simultaneously reject the frenzy of annihilation
and the acceptance of totality, the artist must simultaneously escape from the passion for formality and
the totalitarian aesthetic of reality. The world today is one, in fact, but its unity is the unity of nihilism.
Civilization is only possible if, by renouncing the nihilism of formal principles and nihilism without
principles, the world rediscovers the road to a creative synthesis. In the same way, in art the time of
perpetual commentary and factual reporting is at the point of death; it announces the advent of creative
artists.
But art and society, creation and revolution, to prepare for this event, must rediscover the source of
rebellion where refusal and acceptance, the unique and the universal, the individual and history balance
each other in a condition of acute tension. Rebellion in itself is not an element of civilization. But it is a
preliminary to all civilization. Rebellion alone, in the blind alley in which we live, allows us to hope for
the future of which Nietzsche dreamed: "Instead of the judge and the oppressor, the creator." This formula
certainly does not authorize the ridiculous illusion of a civilization controlled by artists. It only
illuminates the drama of our times in which work, entirely subordinated to production, has ceased to be
creative. Industrial society will open the way to a new civilization only by restoring to the worker the
dignity of a creator; in other words, by making him apply his interest and his intelligence as much to the
work itself as to what it produces. The type of civilization that is inevitable will not be able
to separate, among classes as well as among individuals, the worker from the creator; any more than
artistic creation dreams of separating form and substance, history and the mind. In this way it will bestow
on everyone the dignity that rebellion affirms. It would be unjust, and moreover Utopian, for Shakespeare
to direct the shoemakers' union. But it would be equally disastrous for the shoemakers' union to ignore
Shakespeare. Shakespeare without the shoemaker serves as an excuse for tyranny. The shoemaker without
Shakespeare is absorbed by tyranny when he does not contribute to its propagation. Every act of creation,
by its mere existence, denies the world of master and slave. The appalling society of tyrants and slaves in
which we survive will find its death and transfiguration only on the level of creation.
But the fact that creation is necessary does not perforce imply that it is possible. A creative period in art is
determined by the order of a particular style applied to the disorder of a particular time. It gives form and
formulas to contemporary passions. Thus it no longer suffices, for a creative artist, to imitate Mme de La
Fayette in a period when our morose rulers have no more time for love. Today, when collective passions
have stolen a march on individual passions, the ecstasy of love can always be controlled by art. But the
ineluctable problem is also to control collective passions and the historical struggle. The scope of art,
despite the regrets of the plagiarists, has been extended from psychology to the human condition. When
the passions of the times put the fate of the whole world at stake, creation wishes to dominate the whole
of destiny. But, at the same time, it maintains, in the face of totality, the affirmation of unity. In simple
words, creation is then imperilled, first by itself, and then by the spirit of totality. To create, today, is to
create dangerously.
In order to dominate collective passions they must, in fact, be lived through and experienced, at least
relatively. At the same time that he experiences them, the artist is devoured by them. The result is that our
period is rather the period of journalism than of the work of art. The exercise of these passions, finally,
entails far greater chances of death than in the period of love and ambition, in that the only way of living
collective passions is to be
willing to die for them and by their hand. The greatest opportunity for authenticity is, today, the greatest
defeat of art. If creation is impossible during wars and revolutions, then we shall have no creative artists,
for war and revolution are our lot. The myth of unlimited production brings war in its train as inevitably
as clouds announce a storm. Wars lay waste to the West and kill the flower of a generation. Hardly has it
arisen from the ruins when the bourgeois system sees the revolutionary system advancing upon it. Genius
has not even had time to be reborn; the war that threatens us will kill all those who perhaps might have
been geniuses. If a creative classicism is, nevertheless, proved possible, we must recognize that, even
though it is rendered illustrious by one name alone, it will be the work of an entire generation. The
chances of defeat, in the century of destruction, can only be compensated for by the hazard of numbers; in
other words, the chance that of ten authentic artists one, at least, will survive, take charge of the first
utterances of his brother artists, and succeed in finding in his life both the time for passion and the time
for creation. The artist, whether he likes it or not, can no longer be a solitary, except in the melancholy
triumph he owes to all his fellow artists. Rebellious art also ends by revealing the "We are," and with it
the way to a burning humility.
Meanwhile, the triumphant revolution, in the aberrations of its nihilism, menaces those who, in defiance
of it, claim to maintain the existence of unity in totality. One of the implications of history today, and still
more of the history of tomorrow, is the struggle between the artists and the new conquerors, between the
witnesses to the creative revolution and the founders of the nihilist revolution. As to the outcome of the
struggle, it is only possible to make inspired guesses. At least we know that it must henceforth be carried
on to the bitter end. Modern conquerors can kill, but do not seem to be able to create. Artists know how to
create but cannot really kill. Murderers are only very exceptionally found among artists. In the long run,
therefore, art in our revolutionary societies must die. But then the revolution will have lived its allotted
span. Each time that the revolution kills in a man the artist that he might have been, it attenuates itself
a little more. If, finally, the conquerors succeed in molding the world according to their laws, it will not
prove that quantity is king, but that this world is hell. In this hell, the place of art will coincide with that of
vanquished rebellion, a blind and empty hope in the pit of despair. Ernst Dwinger in his Siberian Diary
mentions a German lieutenant—for years a prisoner in a camp where cold and hunger were almost
unbearable—who constructed himself a silent piano with wooden keys. In the most abject misery,
perpetually surrounded by a ragged mob, he composed a strange music which was audible to him alone.
And for us who have been thrown into hell, mysterious melodies and the torturing images of a vanished
beauty will always bring us, in the midst of crime and folly, the echo of that harmonious insurrection
which bears witness, throughout the centuries, to the greatness of humanity.
But hell can endure for only a limited period, and life will begin again one day. History may perhaps have
an end; but our task is not to terminate it but to create it, in the image of what we henceforth know to be
true. Art, at least, teaches us that man cannot be explained by history alone and that he also finds a reason
for his existence in the order of nature. For him, the great god Pan is not dead. His most instinctive act of
rebellion, while it affirms the value and the dignity common to all men, obstinately claims, so as to satisfy
its hunger for unity, an integral part of the reality whose name is beauty. One can reject all history and yet
accept the world of the sea and the stars. The rebels who wish to ignore nature and beauty are condemned
to banish from history everything with which they want to construct the dignity of existence and of labor.
Every great reformer tries to create in history what Shakespeare, Cervantes, Moliere, and Tolstoy knew
how to create: a world always ready to satisfy the hunger for freedom and dignity which every man
carries in his heart. Beauty, no doubt, does not make revolutions. But a day will come when revolutions
will have need of beauty. The procedure of beauty, which is to contest reality while endowing it with
unity, is also the procedure of rebellion. Is it possible eternally to reject injustice without ceasing to
acclaim the nature of man and the beauty of the world? Our answer is yes. This ethic, at once unsubmissive
and loyal, is in any event the only one that lights the way to a truly realistic revolution. In upholding
beauty, we prepare the way for the day of regeneration when civilization will give first place—far ahead
of the formal principles and degraded values of history—to this living virtue on which is founded the
common dignity of man and the world he lives in, and which we must now define in the face of a world
that insults it.

Part Five Thought at the Meridian

Rebellion and Murder

Far from this source of life, however, Europe and the revolution are being shaken to the core by a
spectacular convulsion. During the last century, man cast off the fetters of religion. Hardly was he free,
however, when he created new and utterly intolerable chains. Virtue dies but is born again, more exacting
than ever. It preaches an ear-splitting sermon on charity to all comers and a kind of love for the future
which makes a mockery of contemporary humanism. When it has reached this point of stability, it can
only wreak havoc. A day arrives when it becomes bitter, immediately adopts police methods, and, for the
salvation of mankind, assumes the ignoble aspect of an inquisition. At the climax of contemporary
tragedy, we therefore become intimates of crime. The sources of life and of creation seem exhausted. Fear
paralyzes a Europe peopled with phantoms and machines. Between two holocausts, scaffolds are installed
in underground caverns where humanist executioners celebrate their new cult in silence. What cry would
ever trouble them? The poets themselves, confronted with the murder of their fellow men, proudly declare
that their hands are clean. The whole world absent-mindedly turns its back on these crimes; the victims
have reached the extremity of their disgrace: they are a bore. In ancient times the blood of murder at least
produced a religious horror and in this way sanctified the value of life. The real condemnation of the
period we live in is, on the contrary, that it leads us to think that it is not bloodthirsty
enough. Blood is no longer visible; it does not bespatter the faces of our pharisees visibly enough.
This is the extreme of nihilism; blind and savage murder becomes an oasis, and the imbecile criminal
seems positively refreshing in comparison with our highly intelligent executioners.
Having believed for a long time that it could fight against God with all humanity as its ally, the European
mind then perceived that it must also, if it did not want to die, fight against men. The rebels who, united
against death, wanted to construct, on the foundation of the human species, a savage immortality are
terrified at the prospect of being obliged to kill in their turn. Nevertheless, if they retreat they must accept
death; if they advance they must accept murder. Rebellion, cut off from its origins and cynically
travestied, oscillates, on all levels, between sacrifice and murder. The form of justice that it advocated and
that it hoped was impartial has turned out to be summary. The kingdom of grace has been conquered, but
the kingdom of justice is crumbling too. Europe is dying of this disappointing realization. Rebellion
pleaded for the innocence of mankind, and now it has hardened its heart against its own culpability.
Hardly does it start off in search of totality when it receives as its portion the most desperate sensations of
solitude. It wanted to enter into communion with mankind and now it has no other hope but to assemble,
one by one, throughout the years, the solitary men who fight their way toward unity.
Must we therefore renounce every kind of rebellion, whether we accept, with all its injustices, a society
that outlives its usefulness, or whether we decide, cynically, to serve, against the interest of man, the
inexorable advance of history? After all, if the logic of our reflection should lead to a cowardly
conformism it would have to be accepted as certain families sometimes accept inevitable dishonor. If it
must also justify all the varieties of attempts against man, and even his systematic destruction, it would be
necessary to consent to this suicide. The desire for justice would finally realize its ambition: the
disappearance of a world of tradesmen and police.
But are we still living in a rebellious world? Has not rebellion become, on the contrary, the excuse of a
new
variety of tyrant? Can the "We are" contained in the movement of rebellion, without shame and without
subterfuge, be reconciled with murder? In assigning oppression a limit within which begins the dignity
common to all men, rebellion defined a primary value. It put in the first rank of its frame of reference an
obvious complicity among men, a common texture, the solidarity of chains, a communication between
human being and human being which makes men both similar and united. In this way, it compelled the
mind to take a first step in defiance of an absurd world. By this progress it rendered still more acute the
problem that it must now solve in regard to murder. On the level of the absurd, in fact, murder would only
give rise to logical contradictions; on the level of rebellion it is mental laceration. For it is now a question
of deciding if it is possible to kill someone whose resemblance to ourselves we have at last recognized
and whose identity we have just sanctified. When we have only just conquered solitude, must we then reestablish
it definitively by legitimizing the act that isolates everything? To force solitude on a man who
has just come to understand that he is not alone, is that not the definitive crime against man?
Logically, one should reply that murder and rebellion are contradictory. If a single master should, in fact,
be killed, the rebel, in a certain way, is no longer justified in using the term community of men from which
he derived his justification. If this world has no higher meaning, if man is only responsible to man, it
suffices for a man to remove one single human being from the society of the living to automatically
exclude himself from it. When Cain kills Abel, he flees to the desert. And if murderers are legion, then
this legion lives in the desert and in that other kind of solitude called promiscuity.
From the moment that he strikes, the rebel cuts the world in two. He rebelled in the name of the identity
of man with man and he sacrifices this identity by consecrating the difference in blood. His only
existence, in the midst of suffering and oppression, was contained in this identity. The same movement,
which intended to affirm him, thus brings an end to his existence. He can claim that some, or even almost
all, are with him. But if one
single human being is missing in the irreplaceable world of fraternity, then this world is immediately
depopulated. If we are not, then I am not and this explains the infinite sadness of Kaliayev and the silence
of Saint-Just. The rebels, who have decided to gain their ends through violence and murder, have in vain
replaced, in order to preserve the hope of existing, "We are" by the "We shall be."When the murderer and
the victim have disappeared, the community will provide its own justification without them. The
exception having lasted its appointed time, the rule will once more become possible. On the level of
history, as in individual life, murder is thus a desperate exception or it is nothing. The disturbance that it
brings to the order of things offers no hope of a future; it is an exception and therefore it can be neither
utilitarian nor systematic as the purely historical attitude would have it. It is the limit that can be reached
but once, after which one must die. The rebel has only one way of reconciling himself with his act of
murder if he allows himself to be led into performing it: to accept his own death and sacrifice. He kills
and dies so that it shall be clear that murder is impossible. He demonstrates that, in reality, he prefers the
"We are" to the "We shall be." The calm happiness of Kaliayev in his prison, the serenity of Saint-Just
when he walks toward the scaffold, are explained in their turn. Beyond that farthest frontier, con-tradition
and nihilism begin.
Nihilistic Murder
Irrational crime and rational crime, in fact, both equally betray the value brought to light by the
movement of rebellion. Let us first consider the former. He who denies everything and assumes the
authority to kill—Sade, the homicidal dandy, the pitiless Unique, Karamazov, the zealous supporters of
the unleashed bandit—lay claim to nothing short of total freedom and the unlimited display of human
pride. Nihilism confounds creator and created in the same blind fury. Suppressing every principle of hope,
it rejects the idea of any limit, and in blind indignation, which no longer is even aware of its reasons, ends
with the
conclusion that it is a matter of indifference to kill when the victim is already condemned to death.
But its reasons—the mutual recognition of a common destiny and the communication of men between
themselves—are always valid. Rebellion proclaimed them and undertook to serve them. In the same way
it defined, in contradiction to nihilism, a rule of conduct that has no need to await the end of history to
explain its actions and which is, nevertheless, not formal. Contrary to Jacobin morality, it made
allowances for everything that escapes from rules and laws. It opened the way to a morality which, far
from obeying abstract principles, discovers them only in the heat of battle and in the incessant movement
of contradiction. Nothing justifies the assertion that these principles have existed externally; it is of no use
to declare that they will one day exist. But they do exist, in the very period in which we exist. With us,
and throughout all history, they deny servitude, falsehood, and terror.
There is, in fact, nothing in common between a master and a slave; it is impossible to speak and
communicate with a person who has been reduced to servitude. Instead of the implicit and untrammeled
dialogue through which we come to recognize our similarity and consecrate our destiny, servitude gives
sway to the most terrible of silences. If injustice is bad for the rebel, it is not because it contradicts an
eternal idea of justice, but because it perpetuates the silent hostility that separates the oppressor from the
oppressed. It kills the small part of existence that can be realized on this earth through the mutual
understanding of men. In the same way, since the man who lies shuts himself off from other men,
falsehood is therefore proscribed and, on a slightly lower level, murder and violence, which impose
definitive silence. The mutual understanding and communication discovered by rebellion can survive only
in the free exchange of conversation. Every ambiguity, every misunderstanding, leads to death; clear
language and simple words are the only salvation from this death.1 The climax of every tragedy lies in the
deafness of its heroes. Plato is right and not Moses and Nietzsche. Dialogue on the level of mankind is
less costly
1 It is worth noting that the language peculiar to totalitarian doctrines is always: a scholastic or
administrative language.
than the gospel preached by totalitarian regimes in the form of a monologue dictated from the top of a
lonely mountain. On the stage as in reality, the monologue precedes death. Every rebel, solely by the
movement that sets him in opposition to the oppressor, therefore pleads for life, undertakes to struggle
against servitude, falsehood, and terror, and affirms, in a flash, that these three afflictions are the cause of
silence between men, that they obscure them from one another and prevent them from rediscovering
themselves in the only value that can save them from nihilism—the long complicity of men at grips with
their destiny.
In a flash—but that is time enough to say, provisionally, that the most extreme form of freedom, the
freedom to kill, is not compatible with the sense of rebellion. Rebellion is in no way the demand for total
freedom. On the contrary, rebellion puts total freedom up for trial. It specifically attacks the unlimited
power that authorizes a superior to violate the forbidden frontier. Far from demanding general
independence, the rebel wants it to be recognized that freedom has its limits everywhere that a human
being is to be found—the limit being precisely that human being's power to rebel. The most profound
reason for rebellious intransigence is to be found here. The more aware rebellion is of demanding a just
limit, the more inflexible it becomes. The rebel undoubtedly demands a certain degree of freedom for
himself; but in no case, if he is consistent, does he demand the right to destroy the existence and the
freedom of others. He humiliates no one. The freedom he claims, he claims for all; the freedom he
refuses, he forbids everyone to enjoy. He is not only the slave against the master, but also man against the
world of master and slave. Therefore, thanks to rebellion, there is something more in history than the
relation between mastery and servitude. Unlimited power is not the only law. It is in the name of another
value that the rebel affirms the impossibility of total freedom while he claims for himself the relative
freedom necessary to recognize this impossibility. Every human freedom, at its very roots, is therefore
relative. Absolute freedom, which is the freedom to kill, is the only one which does not claim, at the same
time as itself, the things that limit
and obliterate it. Thus it cuts itself off from its roots and —abstract and malevolent shade—wanders
haphazardly until such time as it imagines that it has found substance in some ideology.
It is then possible to say that rebellion, when it develops into destruction, is illogical. Claiming the unity
of the human condition, it is a force of life, not of death. Its most profound logic is not the logic of
destruction; it is the logic of creation. Its movement, in order to remain authentic, must never abandon any
of the terms of the contradiction that sustains it. It must be faithful to the yes that it contains as well as to
the no that nihilistic interpretations isolate in rebellion. The logic of the rebel is to want to serve justice so
as not to add to the injustice of the human condition, to insist on plain language so as not to increase the
universal falsehood, and to wager, in spite of human misery, for happiness. Nihilistic passion, adding to
falsehood and injustice, destroys in its fury its original demands and thus deprives rebellion of its most
cogent reasons. It kills in the fond conviction that this world is dedicated to death. The consequence of
rebellion, on the contrary, is to refuse to legitimize murder because rebellion, in principle, is a protest
against death.
But if man were capable of introducing unity into the world entirely on his own, if he could establish the
reign, by his own decree, of sincerity, innocence, and justice, he would be God Himself. Equally, if he
could accomplish all this, there would be no more reasons for rebellion. If rebellion exists, it is because
falsehood, injustice, and violence are part of the rebel's condition. He cannot, therefore, absolutely claim
not to kill or lie, without renouncing his rebellion and accepting, once and for all, evil and murder. But no
more can he agree to kill and lie, since the inverse reasoning which would justify murder and violence
would also destroy the reasons for his insurrection. Thus the rebel can never find peace. He knows what is
good and, despite himself, does evil. The value that supports him is never given to him once and for all;
he must fight to uphold it, unceasingly. Again the existence he achieves collapses if rebellion does not
support it. In any case, if he is not always able not to kill, either directly or indirectly, he can put his
conviction and passion to
work at diminishing the chances of murder around him. His only virtue will lie in never yielding to the
impulse to allow himself to be engulfed in the shadows that surround him and in obstinately dragging the
chains of evil, with which he is bound, toward the light of good. If he finally kills himself, he will accept
death. Faithful to his origins, the rebel demonstrates by sacrifice that his real freedom is not freedom from
murder but freedom from his own death. At the same time, he achieves honor in metaphysical terms. Thus
Kaliayev climbs the gallows and visibly designates to all his fellow men the exact limit where man's
honor begins and ends.

Historical Murder
Rebellion also deploys itself in history, which demands not only exemplary choices, but also efficacious
attitudes. Rational murder runs the risk of finding itself justified by history. The contradiction of
rebellion, then, is reflected in an apparently insoluble contradiction, of which the two counterparts in
politics are on the one hand the opposition between violence and non-violence, and on the other hand the
opposition between justice and freedom. Let us try to define them in the terms of their paradox.
The positive value contained in the initial movement of rebellion supposes the renunciation of violence
committed on principle. It consequently entails the impossibility of stabilizing a revolution. Rebellion is,
incessantly, prey to this contradiction. On the level of history it becomes even more insoluble. If I
renounce the project of making human identity respected, I abdicate in favor of oppression, I renounce
rebellion and fall back on an attitude of nihilistic consent. Then nihilism becomes conservative. If I insist
that human identity should be recognized as existing, then I engage in an action which, to succeed,
supposes a cynical attitude toward violence and denies this identity and rebellion itself. To extend the
contradiction still farther, if the unity of the world cannot come from on high, man must construct it on
his own level, in
history. History without a value to transfigure it, is controlled by the law of expediency. Historical
materialism, determinism, violence, negation of every form of freedom which does not coincide with
expediency and the world of courage and of silence, are the highly legitimate consequences of a pure
philosophy of history. In the world today, only a philosophy of eternity could justify non-violence. To
absolute worship of history it would make the objection of the creation of history and of the historical
situation it would ask whence it had sprung. Finally, it would put the responsibility for justice in God's
hands, thus consecrating injustice. Equally, its answers, in their turn, would insist on faith. The objection
will be raised of evil, and of the paradox of an all-powerful and malevolent, or benevolent and sterile,
God. The choice will remain open between grace and history, God or the sword.
What, then, should be the attitude of the rebel? He cannot turn away from the world and from history
without denying the very principle of his rebellion, nor can he choose eternal life without resigning
himself, in one sense, to evil. If, for example, he is not a Christian, he should go to the bitter end. But to
the bitter end means to choose history absolutely and with it murder, if murder is essential to history: to
accept the justification of murder is again to deny his origins. If the rebel makes no choice, he chooses the
silence and slavery of others. If, in a moment of despair, he declares that he opts both against God and
against history, he is the witness of pure freedom; in other words, of nothing. In our period of history and
in the impossible condition in which he finds himself, of being unable to affirm a superior motive that
does not have its limits in evil, his apparent dilemma is silence or murder—in either case, a surrender.
And it is the same again with justice and freedom. These two demands are already to be found at the
beginning of the movement of rebellion and are to be found again in the first impetus of revolution. The
history of revolutions demonstrates, however, that they almost always conflict as though their mutual
demands were irreconcilable. Absolute freedom is the right of the strongest to dominate. Therefore it
prolongs the conflicts that profit by
injustice. Absolute justice is achieved by the suppression of all contradiction: therefore it destroys freedom.2 The
revolution to achieve justice, through freedom, ends by aligning them against each other. Thus there exists in every
revolution, once the class that dominated up to then has been liquidated, a stage in which it gives birth, itself, to a
movement of rebellion which indicates its limits and announces its chances of failure. The revolution, first of all,
proposes to satisfy the spirit of rebellion which has given rise to it; then it is compelled to deny it, the better to
affirm itself. There is, it would seem, an ineradicable opposition between the movement of rebellion and the
attainments of revolution.
But these contradictions only exist in the absolute. They suppose a world and a method of thought without
meditation. There is, in fact, no conciliation possible between a god who is totally separated from history and a
history purged of all transcendence. Their representatives on earth are, indeed, the yogi and the commissar. But the
difference between these two types of men is not, as has been stated, the difference between ineffectual purity and
expediency. The former chooses only the ineffectiveness of abstention and the second the ineffectiveness of
destruction. Because both reject the conciliatory value that rebellion, on the contrary, reveals, they offer us only two
kinds of impotence, both equally removed from reality, that of good and that of evil.
If, in fact, to ignore history comes to the same as denying reality, it is still alienating oneself from reality to consider
history as a completely self-sufficient absolute. The revolution of the twentieth century believes that it can avoid
nihilism and remain faithful to true rebellion, by replacing God by history. In reality, it fortifies the former and
betrays the latter. History in its pure form furnishes no value by itself. Therefore one must live by the principles of
immediate expediency and keep silent
1 In his Entretiens sur le bon usage de la liberie (Conversations on the Good Use of Freedom), Jean Grenier lays the
foundation for an argument that can be summed up thus: absolute freedom is the destruction of all value; absolute
value suppresses all freedom. Likewise Palante: "If there is a single and universal truth, freedom has no reason for
existing."
or tell lies. Systematic violence, or imposed silence, calculation or concerted falsehood become the inevitable rule.
Purely historical thought is therefore nihilistic: it wholeheartedly accepts the evil of history and in this way is
opposed to rebellion. It is useless for it to affirm, in compensation, the absolute rationality of history, for historical
reason will never bey fulfilled and will never have its full meaning or value until the end of history. In the
meanwhile, it is necessary to act, and to act without a moral rule in order that the definitive rule should one day be
realized. Cynicism as a political attitude is only logical as a function of absolutist thought; in other words, absolute
nihilism on the one hand, absolute rationalism on the other.3 As for the consequences, there is no difference between
the two attitudes. From the moment that they are accepted, the earth becomes a desert.
In reality, the purely historical absolute is not even conceivable. Jaspers's thought, for example, in its essentials,
underlines the impossibility of man's grasping totality, since he lives in the midst of this totality. History, as an
entirety, could exist only in the eyes of an observer outside it and outside the world. History only exists, in the final
analysis, for God. Thus it is impossible to act according to plans embracing the totality of universal history. Any
historical enterprise can therefore only be a more or less reasonable or justifiable adventure. It is primarily a risk. In
so far as it is a risk it cannot be used to justify any excess or any ruthless and absolutist position.
If, on the other hand, rebellion could found a philosophy it would be a philosophy of limits, of calculated ignorance,
and of risk. He who does not know everything cannot kill everything. The rebel, far from making an absolute of
history, rejects and disputes it, in the name of a concept that he has of his own nature. He refuses his condition, and
his condition to a large extent is historical. Injustice, the transcience of time, death—all are mani-
3 We see again, and this cannot be said too often, that absolute rationalism is not rationalism. The difference
between the two is the same as the difference between cynicism and realism. The first drives the second beyond the
limits that give it meaning and legitimacy. More brutal, it is finally less efficacious. It is violence opposed to force.
fest in history. In spurning them, history itself is spurned. Most certainly the rebel does not deny the
history that surrounds him; it is in terms of this that he attempts to affirm himself. But confronted with it,
he feels like the artist confronted with reality; he spurns it without escaping from it. He has never
succeeded in creating an absolute history. Even though he can participate, by the force of events, in the
crime of history, he cannot necessarily legitimate it. Rational crime not only cannot be admitted on the
level of rebellion, but also signifies the death of rebellion. To make this evidence more convincing,
rational crime exercises itself, in the first place, on rebels whose insurrection contests a history that is
henceforth deified.
The mystification peculiar to the mind which claims to be revolutionary today sums up and increases
bourgeois mystification. It contrives, by the promise of absolute justice, the acceptance of perpetual
injustice, of unlimited compromise, and of indignity. Rebellion itself only aspires to the relative and can
only promise an assured dignity coupled with relative justice. It supposes a limit at which the community
of man is established. Its universe is the universe of relative values. Instead of saying, with Hegel and
Marx, that all is necessary, it only repeats that all is possible and that, at a certain point on the farthest
frontier, it is worth making the supreme sacrifice for the sake of the possible. Between God and history,
the yogi and the commissar, it opens a difficult path where contradictions may exist and thrive. Let us
consider the two contradictions given as an example in this way.
A revolutionary action which wishes to be coherent in terms of its origins should be embodied in an
active consent to the relative. It would express fidelity to the human condition. Uncompromising as to its
means, it would accept an approximation as far as its ends are concerned and, so that the approximation
should become more and more accurately defined, it would allow absolute freedom of speech. Thus it
would preserve the common existence that justifies its insurrection. In particular, it would preserve as an
absolute law the permanent possibility of self-expression. This defines a particular line of conduct in
regard to justice and freedom. There is no justice in society without natural or civil rights as its basis.
There
are no rights without expression of those rights. If the rights are expressed without hesitation it is more
than probable that, sooner or later, the justice they postulate will come to the world. To conquer existence,
we must start from the small amount of existence we find in ourselves and not deny it from/the very
beginning. To silence the law until justice is established is to silence it forever since it will have no more
occasion to speak if justice reigns forever. Once more, we thus confide justice into the keeping of those
who alone have the ability to make themselves heard—those in power. For centuries, justice and
existence as dispensed by those in power have been considered a favor. To kill freedom in order to
establish the reign of justice comes to the same as resuscitating the idea of grace without divine
intercession and of restoring by a mystifying reaction the mystic body in its basest elements. Even when
justice is not realized, freedom preserves the power to protest and guarantees human communication.
Justice in a silent world, justice enslaved and mute, destroys mutual complicity and finally can no longer
be justice. The revolution of the twentieth century has arbitrarily separated, for overambitious ends of
conquest, two inseparable ideas. Absolute freedom mocks at justice. Absolute justice denies freedom. To
be fruitful, the two ideas must find their limits in each other. No man considers that his condition is free if
it is not at the same time just, nor just unless it is free. Freedom, precisely, cannot even be imagined
without the power of saying clearly what is just and what is unjust, of claiming all existence in the name
of a small part of existence which refuses to die. Finally there is a justice, though a very different kind of
justice, in restoring freedom, which is the only imperishable value of history. Men are never really willing
to die except for the sake of freedom: therefore they do not believe in dying completely.
The same reasoning can be applied to violence. Absolute non-violence is the negative basis of slavery and
its acts of violence; systematic violence positively destroys the living community and the existence we
receive from it. To be fruitful, these two ideas must establish final limits. In history, considered as an
absolute, violence finds itself legitimized; as a relative risk, it is the cause of a rupture
in communication. It must therefore preserve, for the rebel, its provisional character of effraction and
must always be bound, if it cannot be avoided, to a personal responsibility and to an immediate risk.
Systematic violence is part of the order of things; in a certain sense, this is consolatory. Fuhrerprinzip or
historical Reason, whatever order may establish it, it reigns over the universe of things, not the universe
of men. Just as the rebel considers murder as the limit that he must, if he is so inclined, consecrate by his
own death, so violence can only be an extreme limit which combats another form of violence, as, for
example, in the case of an insurrection. If an excess of injustice renders the latter inevitable, the rebel
rejects violence in advance, in the service of a doctrine or of a reason of State. Every historical crisis, for
example, terminates in institutions. If we have no control over the crisis itself, which is pure hazard, we
do have control over the institutions, since we can define them, choose the ones for which we will fight,
and thus bend our efforts toward their establishment. Authentic arts of rebellion will only consent to take
up arms for institutions that limit violence, not for those which codify it. A revolution is not worth dying
for unless it assures the immediate suppression of the death penalty; not worth going to prison for unless
it refuses in advance to pass sentence without fixed terms. If rebel violence employs itself in the
establishment of these institutions, announcing its aims as often as it can, it is the only way in which it
can be really provisional. When the end is absolute, historically speaking, and when it is believed certain
of realization, it is possible to go so far as to sacrifice others. When it is not, only oneself can be
sacrificed, in the hazards of a struggle for the common dignity of man. Does the end justify the means?
That is possible. But what will justify the end? To that question, which historical thought leaves pending,
rebellion replies: the means.
What does such an attitude signify in politics? And, first of all, is it efficacious? We must answer without
hesitation that it is the only attitude that is efficacious today. There are two sorts of efficacity: that of
typhoons and that of sap. Historical absolutism is not efficacious, it is efficient; it has seized and kept
power. Once it is in possession
of power, it destroys the only creative reality. Uncompromising and limited action, springing from
rebellion, upholds this reality and only tries to extend it farther and farther. It is not said that this action
cannot conquer. It is said that it runs the risk of not conquering and of dying. But either revolution will
take this risk or it will confess that it is only the undertaking of a new set of masters, punishable by the
same scorn. A revolution that is separated from honor betrays its origins that belong to the reign of honor.
Its choice, in any case, is limited to material expediency and final annihilation, or to risks and hence to
creation. The revolutionaries of the past went ahead as fast as they could and their optimism was
complete. But today the revolutionary spirit has grown in knowledge and clear-sightedness; it has behind
it a hundred and fifty years of experience. Moreover, the revolution has lost its illusions of being a public
holiday. It is, entirely on its own, a prodigious and calculated enterprise, which embraces the entire
universe. It knows, even though it does not always say so, that it will be world-wide or that it will not be
at all. Its chances are balanced against the risk of a universal war, which, even in the event of victory, will
only present it with an Empire of ruins. It can remain faithful to its nihilism, and incarnate in the charnel
houses the ultimate reason of history. Then it will be necessary to renounce everything except the silent
music that will again transfigure the terrestrial hell. But the revolutionary spirit in Europe can also, for the
first and last time, reflect upon its principles, ask itself what the deviation is which leads it into terror and
into war, and rediscover with the reasons for its rebellion, its faith in itself.

Moderation and Excess
The errors of contemporary revolution are first of all explained by the ignorance or systematic
misconception of that limit which seems inseparable from human nature and which rebellion reveals.
Nihilist thought, because it neglects this frontier, ends by precipitating itself into a uniformly accelerated
movement. Nothing any longer checks it in its course and it reaches the point of justifying total
destruction or unlimited conquest. We now know, at the end of this long inquiry into rebellion and
nihilism, that rebellion with no other limits but historical expediency signifies unlimited slavery. To
escape this fate, the revolutionary mind, if it wants to remain alive, must therefore return again to the
sources of rebellion and draw its inspiration from the only system of thought which is faithful to its
origins: thought that recognizes limits. If the limit discovered by rebellion transfigures everything, if
every thought, every action that goes beyond a certain point negates itself, there is, in fact, a measure by
which to judge events and men. In history, as in psychology, rebellion is an irregular pendulum, which
swings in an erratic arc because it is looking for its most perfect and profound rhythm. But its irregularity
is not total: it functions around a pivot. Rebellion, at the same time that it suggests a nature common to all
men, brings to light the measure and the limit which are the very principle of this nature.
Every reflection today, whether nihilist or positivist, gives birth, sometimes without knowing it, to
standards that science itself confirms. The quantum theory, relativity, the uncertainty of interrelationships,
define a world that has no definable reality except on the scale of average
greatness, which is our own. The ideologies which guide our world were born in the time of absolute
scientific discoveries. Our real knowledge, on/the other hand, only justifies a system of thought based qn
relative discoveries. "Intelligence," says Lazare Bickel, "is our faculty for not developing what we think
to the very end, so that we can still believe in reality." Approximative thought is the only creator of
reality.1
The very forces of matter, in their blind advance, impose their own limits. That is why it is useless to
want to reverse the advance of technology. The age of the spinning-wheel is over and the dream of a
civilization of artisans is vain. The machine is bad only in the way that it is now employed. Its benefits
must be accepted even if its ravages are rejected. The truck, driven day and night, does not humiliate its
driver, who knows it inside out and treats it with affection and efficiency. The real and inhuman excess
lies in the division of labor. But by dint of this excess, a day comes when a machine capable of a hundred
operations, operated by one man, creates one sole object. This man, on a different scale, will have
partially rediscovered the power of creation which he possessed in the days of the artisan. The anonymous
producer then more nearly approaches the creator. It is not certain, naturally, that industrial excess will
immediately embark on this path. But it already demonstrates, by the way it functions, the necessity for
moderation and gives rise to reflections on the proper way to organize this moderation. Either this value
of limitation will be realized, or contemporary excesses will only find their principle and peace in
universal destruction.
This law of moderation equally well extends to all the contradictions of rebellious thought. The real is not
entirely rational, nor is the rational entirely real. As we have seen in regard to surrealism, the desire for
unity not
1 Science today betrays its origins and denies its own acquisitions in allowing itself to be put to the.
service of State terrorism and the desire for power. Its punishment and its degradation lie in only being
able to produce, in an abstract world, the means of destruction and enslavement. But when the limit is
reached, science will perhaps serve the individual rebellion. This terrible necessity will mark the decisive
turning-point.
only demands that everything should be rational. It also wishes that the irrational should not be sacrificed.
One cannot say that nothing has any meaning, because in doing so one affirms a value sanctified by an
opinion; nor that everything has a meaning, because the word everything has no meaning for us. The
irrational imposes limits on the rational, which, in its turn, gives it its moderation. Something has a
meaning, finally, which we must obtain from meaninglessness. In the same way, it cannot be said that
existence takes place only on the level of essence. Where could one perceive essence except on the level
of existence and evolution? But nor can it be said that being is only existence. Something that is always in
the process of development could not exist—there must be a beginning. Being can only prove itself in
development, and development is nothing without being. The world is not in a condition of pure stability;
nor is it only movement. It is both movement and stability. The historical dialectic, for example, is not in
continuous pursuit of an unknown value. It revolves around the limit, which is its prime value. Heraclitus,
the discoverer of the constant change of things, nevertheless set a limit to this perpetual process. This
limit was symbolized by Nemesis, the goddess of moderation and the implacable enemy of the
immoderate. A process of thought which wanted to take into account the contemporary contradictions of
rebellion should seek its inspiration from this goddess.
As for the moral contradictions, they too begin to become soluble in the light of this conciliatory value.
Virtue cannot separate itself from reality without becoming a principle of evil. Nor can it identify itself
completely with reality without denying itself. The moral value brought to light by rebellion, finally, is no
farther above' life and history than history and life are above it. In actual truth, it assumes no reality in
history until man gives his life for it or dedicates himself entirely to it. Jacobin and bourgeois civilization
presumes that values are above history, and its formal virtues then lay the foundation of a repugnant form
of mystification. The revolution of the twentieth century decrees that values are intermingled with the
movement of history and that their historical foundations justify a new form of mystification.
Moderation, confronted with this irregularity, teaches us that at least one part of realism is
necessary to every ethic: pure and unadulterated virtue is homicidal. And one part of ethics is necessary to
all realism: cynicism is homicidal. That is why humanitarian cant has no more basis than cynical
provocation. Finally, man is not entirely to blame; it was not he who started history; nor is he entirely
innocent, since he continues it. Those who go beyond this limit and affirm his total innocence end in the
insanity of definitive culpability. Rebellion, on the contrary, sets us on the path of calculated culpability.
Its sole but invincible hope is incarnated, in the final analysis, in innocent murderers.
At this limit, the "We are" paradoxically defines a new form of individualism. "We are" in terms of
history, and history must reckon with this "We are," which must in its turn keep its place in history. I have
need of others who have need of me and of each other. Every collective action, every form of society,
supposes a discipline, and the individual, without this discipline, is only a stranger, bowed down under
the weight of an inimical collectivity. But society and discipline lose their direction if they deny the "We
are." I alone, in one sense, support the common dignity that I cannot allow either myself or others to
debase. This individualism is in no sense pleasure; it is perpetual struggle, and, sometimes, unparalleled
joy when it reaches the heights of proud compassion.

Thought at the Meridian
As for knowing if such an attitude can find political expression in the contemporary world, it is easy to
evoke —and this is only an example—what is traditionally called revolutionary trade-unionism. Cannot it
be said that even this trade-unionism is ineffectual? The answer is simple: it is this movement alone that,
in one century, is responsible for the enormously improved condition of the workers from the sixteenhour
day to the forty-hour week. The ideological Empire has turned socialism back on its tracks and
destroyed the greater part of the conquests of tradeunionism.
It is because trade-unionism started from a concrete basis, the basis of professional employment (which is
to the economic order what the commune is to the political order), the living cell on which the organism builds
itself, while the Caesarian revolution starts from doctrine and forcibly introduces reality into it. Trade-unionism, like
the commune, is the negation, to the benefit of reality, of bureaucratic and abstract centralism.2 The revolution of the
twentieth century, on the contrary, claims to base itself on economics, but is primarily political and ideological. It
cannot, by its very function, avoid tenor and violence done to the real. Despite its pretensions, it begins in the
absolute and attempts to mold reality. Rebellion, inversely, relies on reality to assist it in its perpetual struggle for
truth. The former tries to realize itself from top to bottom, the latter from bottom to top. Far from being a form of
romanticism, rebellion, on the contrary, takes the part of true realism. If it wants a revolution, it wants it on behalf of
life, not in defiance of it. That is why it relies primarily on the most concrete realities—on occupation, on the
village, where the living heart of things and of men is to be found. Politics, to satisfy the demands of rebellion, must
submit to the eternal verities. Finally, when it causes history to advance and alleviates the sufferings of mankind, it
does so without terror, if not without violence, and in the most dissimilar political conditions.3 But this example goes
farther than it seems. On the very day when the Caesarian revolution triumphed over the syndicalist and libertarian
spirit, revolutionary thought lost, in itself, a counterpoise of which it cannot, without decaying, deprive itself. This
counterpoise, this spirit which takes the measure of life, is the same that animates the long tradition that can be
called solitary thought, in which, since the time of the Greeks, nature has always
2 Tolain, the future Communard, wrote: "Human beings emancipate themselves only on the basis of natural groups."
3 Scandinavian societies today, to give only one example, demonstrate how artificial and destructive are purely
political opposites. The most fruitful form of trade-unionism is reconciled with constitutional monarchy and
achieves an approximation of a just society. The first preoccupation of the historical and natural State has been, on
the contrary, to crush forever the professional nucleus and communal autonomy.
been weighed against evolution. The history of the First International, when German Socialism
ceaselessly fought against the libertarian thought of the French, the Spanish, and the Italians, is the history
of the struggle of German ideology against the Mediterranean mind.4 The commune against the State,
concrete society against absolutist society, deliberate freedom against rational tyranny, finally altruistic
individualism against the colonization of the masses, are, then, the contradictions that express once again
the endless opposition of moderation to excess which has animated the history of the Occident since the
time of the ancient world. The profound conflict of this century is perhaps not so much between the
German ideologies of history and Christian political concepts, which in a certain way are accomplices, as
between German dreams and Mediterranean traditions, between the violence of eternal adolescence and
virile strength, between nostalgia, rendered more acute by knowledge and by books and courage
reinforced and enlightened by the experience of life—in other words, between history and nature. But
German ideology, in this sense, has come into an inheritance. It consummates twenty centuries of abortive
struggle against nature, first in the name of a historic god and then of a deified history. Christianity, no
doubt, was only able to conquer its catholicity by assimilating as much as it could of Greek thought. But
when the Church dissipated its Mediterranean heritage, it placed the emphasis on history to the detriment
of nature, caused the Gothic to triumph over the romance, and, destroying a limit in itself, has made
increasing claims to temporal power and historical dynamism. When nature ceases to be an object of
contemplation and admiration, it can then be nothing more than material for an action that aims at
transforming it. These tendencies—and not the concepts of mediation, which would have comprised the
real strength of Christianity—are triumphing in modern times, to the detriment of Christianity itself, by an
inevitable turn of events. That God should, in fact, be expelled from this historical universe and German
ideology
See Marx's letter to Engels (July 20, 1870) hoping for the victory of Prussia over France: "The
preponderance of the German proletariat over the French proletariat would be at the same time the
preponderance of our theory over Proudhon's.
be born where action is no longer a process of perfection but pure conquest, is an expression of tyranny.
But historical absolutism, despite its triumphs, has never ceased to come into collision with an
irrepressible demand of human nature, of which the Mediterranean, where intelligence is intimately
related to the blinding light of the sun, guards the secret. Rebellious thought, that of the commune or of
revolutionary trade-unionism, has not ceased to deny this demand in the presence of bourgeois nihilism as
well as of Caesarian socialism. Authoritarian thought, by means of three wars and thanks to the physical
destruction of a revolutionary elite, has succeeded in submerging this libertarian tradition. But this barren
victory is only provisional; the battle still continues. Europe has never been free of this struggle between
darkness and light. It has only degraded itself by deserting the struggle and eclipsing day by night. The
destruction of this equilibrium is today bearing its bitterest fruits. Deprived of our means of mediation,
exiled from natural beauty, we are once again in the world of the Old Testament, crushed between a cruel
Pharaoh and an implacable heaven. In the common condition of misery, the eternal demand is heard
again; nature once more takes up the fight against history. Naturally, it is not a question of despising
anything, or of exalting one civilization at the expense of another, but of simply saying that it is a thought
which the world today cannot do without for very much longer. There is, undoubtedly, in the Russian
people something to inspire Europe with the potency of sacrifice, and in America a necessary power of
construction. But the youth of the world always find themselves standing on the same shore. Thrown into
the unworthy melting-pot of Europe, deprived of beauty and friendship, we Mediterraneans, the proudest
of races, live always by the same light. In the depths of the European night, solar thought, the civilization
facing two ways awaits its dawn. But it already illuminates the paths of real mastery.
Real mastery consists in refuting the prejudices of the time, initially the deepest and most malignant of
them, which would reduce man, after his deliverance from excess, to a barren wisdom. It is very true that
excess can be a form of sanctity when it is paid for by the madness of
Nietzsche. But is this intoxication of the soul which is exhibited on the scene of our culture always the
madness of excess, the folly of attempting the impossible, of which the brand can never be removed from
him who has, once at least, abandoned himself to it? Has Prometheus ever had this fanatical or accusing
aspect? No, our civilization survives in the complacency of cowardly or malignant minds—a sacrifice to
the vanity of aging adolescents. Lucifer also has died with God, and from his ashes has arisen a spiteful
demon who does not even understand the object of his venture. In 1950, excess is always a comfort, and
sometimes a career. Moderation, on the one hand, is nothing but pure tension. It smiles, no doubt, and our
Convulsionists, dedicated to elaborate apocalypses, despise it. But its smile shines brightly at the climax
of an interminable effort: it is in itself a supplementary source of strength. Why do these petty-minded
Europeans who show us an avaricious face, if they no longer have the strength to smile, claim that their
desperate convulsions are examples of superiority?
The real madness of excess dies or creates its own moderation. It does not cause the death of others in
order to create an alibi for itself. In its most extreme manifestations, it finds its limit, on which, like
Kaliayev, it sacrifices itself if necessary. Moderation is not the opposite of rebellion. Rebellion in itself is
moderation, and it demands, defends, and re-creates it throughout history and its eternal disturbances. The
very origin of this value guarantees us that it can only be partially destroyed. Moderation, born of
rebellion, can only live by rebellion. It is a perpetual conflict, continually created and mastered by the
intelligence. It does not triumph either in the impossible or in the abyss. It finds its equilibrium through
them. Whatever we may do, excess will always keep its place in the heart of man, in the place where
solitude is found. We all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes and our ravages. But our task is
not to unleash them on the world; it is to fight them in ourselves and in others. Rebellion, the secular will
not to surrender of which Barres speaks, is still today at the basis of the struggle. Origin of form, source
of real life, it keeps us always erect in the savage, formless movement of history.
Beyond Nihilism There does exist for man, therefore, a way of acting and of thinking which is
possible on the level of moderation to which he belongs. Every undertaking that is more ambitious than
this proves to be contradictory. The absolute is not attained nor, above all, created through history.
Politics is not religion, or if it is, then it is nothing but the Inquisition. How would society define an
absolute? Perhaps everyone is looking for this absolute on behalf of all. But society and politics only have
the responsibility of arranging everyone's affairs so that each will have the leisure and the freedom to
pursue this common search. History can then no longer be presented as an object of worship. It is only an
opportunity that must be rendered fruitful by a vigilant rebellion.
"Obsession with the harvest and indifference to history," writes Rene Char admirably, "are the two
extremities of my bow." If the duration of history is not synonymous with the duration of the harvest, then
history, in effect, is no more than a fleeting and cruel shadow in which man has no more part. He who
dedicates himself to this history dedicates himself to nothing and, in his turn, is nothing. But he who
dedicates himself to the duration of his life, to the house he builds, to the dignity of mankind, dedicates
himself to the earth and reaps from it the harvest that sows its seed and sustains the world again and
again. Finally, it is those who know how to rebel, at the appropriate moment, against history who really
advance its interests. To rebel against it supposes an interminable tension and the agonized serenity of
which Rene Char also speaks. But the true life is present in the heart of this dichotomy. Life is this
dichotomy itself, the
mind soaring over volcanoes of light, the madness of justice, the extenuating intransigence of moderation.
The words that reverberate for us at the confines of this long adventure of rebellion are not formulas for
optimism, for which we have no possible use in the extremities of our unhappiness, but words of courage
and intelligence which, on the shores of the eternal seas, even have the qualities of virtue.
No possible form of wisdom today can claim to give more. Rebellion indefatigably confronts evil, from
which it can only derive a new impetus. Man can master in himself everything that should be mastered.
He should rectify in creation everything that can be rectified. And after he has done so, children will still
die unjustly even in a perfect society. Even by his greatest effort man can only propose to diminish
arithmetically the sufferings of the world. But the injustice and the suffering of the world will remain and,
no matter how limited they are, they will not cease to be an outrage. Dimitri Karamazov's cry of "Why?"
will continue to resound; art and rebellion will die only with the last man.
There is an evil, undoubtedly, which men accumulate in their frantic desire for unity. But yet another evil
lies at the roots of this inordinate movement. Confronted with this evil, confronted with death, man from
the very depths of his soul cries out for justice. Historical Christianity has only replied to this protest
against evil by the annunciation of the kingdom and then of eternal life, which demands faith. But
suffering exhausts hope and faith and then is left alone and unexplained. The toiling masses, worn out
with suffering and death, are masses without God. Our place is henceforth at their side, far from teachers,
old or new. Historical Christianity postpones to a point beyond the span of history the cure of evil and
murder, which are nevertheless experienced within the span of history. Contemporary materialism also
believes that it can answer all questions. But, as a slave to history, it increases the domain of historic
murder and at the same time leaves it without any justification, except in the future—which again
demands faith. In both cases one must wait, and meanwhile the innocent continue to die. For twenty
centuries the sum total of evil has not diminished in the world. No
paradise, whether divine or revolutionary, has been realized. An injustice remains inextricably bound to
all suffering, even the most deserved in the eyes of men. The long silence of Prometheus before the
powers that overwhelmed him still cries out in protest. But Prometheus, meanwhile, has seen men rail and
turn against him. Crushed between human evil and destiny, between terror and the arbitrary, all that
remains to him is his power to rebel in order to save from murder him who can still be saved, without
surrendering to the arrogance of blasphemy.
Then we understand that rebellion cannot exist without a strange form of love. Those who find no rest in
God or in history are condemned to live for those who, like themselves, cannot live: in fact, for the
humiliated. The most pure form of the movement of rebellion is thus crowned with the heart-rending cry
of Karamazov: if all are not saved, what good is the salvation of one only? Thus Catholic prisoners, in the
prison cells of Spain, refuse communion today because the priests of the regime have made it obligatory
in certain prisons. These lonely witnesses to the crucifixion of innocence also refuse salvation if it must
be paid for by injustice and oppression. This insane generosity is the generosity of rebellion, which
unhesitatingly gives the strength of its love and without a moment's delay refuses injustice. Its merit lies
in making no calculations, distributing everything it possesses to life and to living men. It is thus that it is
prodigal in its gifts to men to come. Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.
Rebellion proves in this way that it is the very movement of life and that it cannot be denied without
renouncing life. Its purest outburst, on each occasion, gives birth to existence. Thus it is love and
fecundity or it is nothing at all. Revolution without honor, calculated revolution which, in preferring an
abstract concept of man to a man of flesh and blood, denies existence as many times as is necessary, puts
resentment in the place of love. Immediately rebellion, forgetful of its generous origins, allows itself to be
contaminated by resentment; it denies life, dashes toward destruction, and raises up the grimacing cohorts
of petty rebels, embryo slaves all of them, who end by offering themselves for sale, today, in all the
marketplaces
of Europe, to no matter what form of servitude. It is no longer either revolution or rebellion but
rancor, malice, and tyranny. Then, when revolution in the name of power and of history becomes a
murderous and immoderate mechanism, a new rebellion is consecrated in the name of moderation and of
life. We are at that extremity now. At the end of this tunnel of darkness, however, there is inevitably a
light, which we already divine and for which we only have to fight to ensure its coming. All of us, among
the ruins, are preparing a renaissance beyond the limits of nihilism. But few of us know it.
Already, in fact, rebellion, without claiming to solve everything, can at least confront its problems. From
this moment high noon is borne away on the fast-moving stream of history. Around the devouring flames,
shadows writhe in mortal combat for an instant of time and then as suddenly disappear, and the blind,
fingering their eyelids, cry out that this is history. The men of Europe, abandoned to the shadows, have
turned their backs upon the fixed and radiant point of the present. They forget the present for the future,
the fate of humanity for the delusion of power, the misery of the slums for the mirage of the eternal city,
ordinary justice for an empty promised land. They despair of personal freedom and dream of a strange
freedom of the species; reject solitary death and give the name of immortality to a vast collective agony.
They no longer believe in the things that exist in the world and in living man; the secret of Europe is that
it no longer loves life. Its blind men entertain the puerile belief that to love one single day of life amounts
to justifying whole centuries of oppression. That is why they wanted to efface joy from the world and to
postpone it until a much later date. Impatience with limits, the rejection of their double life, despair at
being a man, have finally driven them to inhuman excesses. Denying the real grandeur of life, they have
had to stake all on their own excellence. For want of something better to do, they deified themselves and
their misfortunes began; these gods have had their eyes put out. Kaliayev, and his brothers throughout the
entire world, refuse, on the contrary, to be deified in that they refuse the unlimited power to inflict death.
They choose, and
give us as an example the only original rule of life today: to learn to live and to die, and, in order to be a
man, to refuse to be a god.
At this meridian of thought, the rebel thus rejects divinity in order to share in the struggles and destiny of
all men. We shall choose Ithaca, the faithful land, frugal and audacious thought, lucid action, and the
generosity of the man who understands. In the light, the earth remains our first and our last love. Our
brothers are breathing under the same sky as we; justice is a living thing. Now is born that strange joy
which helps one live and die, and which we shall never again postpone to a later time. On the sorrowing
earth it is the unresting thorn, the bitter brew, the harsh wind off the sea, the old and the new dawn. With
this joy, through long struggle, we shall remake the soul of our time, and a Europe which will exclude
nothing. Not even that phantom Nietzsche, who for twelve years after his downfall was continually
invoked by the West as the blasted image of its loftiest knowledge and its nihilism; nor the prophet of
justice without mercy who lies, by mistake, in the unbelievers' plot at Highgate Cemetery; nor the deified
mummy of the man of action in his glass coffin; nor any part of what the intelligence and energy of
Europe have ceaselessly furnished to the pride of a contemptible period. All may indeed live again, side
by side with the martyrs of 1905, but on condition that it is understood that they correct one another, and
that a limit, under the sun, shall curb them all. Each tells the other that he is not God; this is the end of
romanticism. At this moment, when each of us must fit an arrow to his bow and enter the lists anew, to
reconquer, within history and in spite of it, that which he owns already, the thin yield of his fields, the
brief love of this earth, at this moment when at last a man is born, it is time to forsake our age and its
adolescent furies. The bow bends; the wood complains. At the moment of supreme tension, there will leap
into flight an unswerving arrow, a shaft that is inflexible and free.

1 σχόλιο:

  1. Γεια σας, βλέπω πως ασχολείστε πολύ με τον Albert Camus.
    Επειδή είναι ο αγαπημένος μου συγγραφέας και έχω σχεδόν όλα του τα βιβλία, θα σας παρακαλούσα πολύ, αν ξέρετε που θα μπορούσα να βρω τον 'Επαναστατημένο Άνθρωπο', έστω και ελαφρώς μεταχειρισμένο να με ενημερώνατε.
    Ευχαριστώ που επικοινωνήσατε μαζί μου.
    Φιλικά,
    Σοφία Λαμπροπούλου

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