Version classiqueVersion mobile

On History

Jules Michelet

3. Introduction to World History

Jules Michelet
Traduction de Flora Kimmich

Texte intégral

Fig. 2. Jules Michelet, circa 1842, after a drawing by Thomas Couture, reproduced in Jules Michelet, Lettres inédites (1841-1871), ed. Paul Sirven (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1924), frontispiece.

1With the world, a war began that will end with the world, and not before: the war of man against nature, of spirit against matter, of liberty against fatality. History is nothing but the story of this endless struggle.

2In recent years fatality has seemed to be taking possession of knowledge no less than of the world. It has been quietly infiltrating philosophy and history. Liberty has demanded its place in society; it is time for it to claim its place in knowledge too. If this introduction achieves its aim, history will be revealed as an enduring protest, as the progressive triumph of liberty.

3Liberty has its limits, no doubt; I do not intend to dispute them. I am only too aware of them in the way physical nature works to consume man. I feel them even more keenly in the turmoil that this enemy world raises in me. Amid the threats and allurements with which the world besets us, who has not repudiated and denied liberty a hundred times. Eppur si muove, as Galileo said. No matter what I do, I discover there is something in me that will not yield, that will not accept the yoke of either man or nature, that submits to reason alone, to law alone, and will not make peace with fatality. May that struggle go on forever! For it is the dignity of man and the very harmony of the world.

  • 2 This was written in January 1830. I have not had the heart to remove it. [Footnotes are Michelet’s (...)

4And it will go on, without any doubt, for as long as human will braces itself against the influence of race and climate, for as long as a Byron can leave industrial England to live in Italy and die in Greece, for as long as the soldiers of France shall march out and pitch camp, be it on the Vistula or the Tiber, in the name of universal liberty.2

5What should hearten us in this endless struggle is that, on the whole, the odds are in our favor. Of the two adversaries, one never changes, the other changes and becomes stronger. Nature remains the same, while man daily gains some advantage of her. The Alps have grown no higher, while we have cut our way through the Simplon. The winds and the tides are as treacherous as ever, but the steamship plows the main with no thought of capricious winds and seas.

6Trace the movements of humankind from east to west along the path of the sun and the magnetic currents of the globe, observe humankind on this long journey from Asia to Europe, from India to France, and you will see at every station on the way how the fatal power of nature diminishes and the influence of race and climate becomes less tyrannical. At the point of departure, in India, in the cradle of all races and religions—the womb of the world—man is bent, prostrated beneath all-powerful nature. He is a helpless baby at his mother’s breast, a frail, dependent creature, coddled and beaten by turns, more intoxicated than nourished by a milk too strong for him. Nature holds him languishing, bathed in hot, humid air heavy with the perfumes of powerful aromatics. His strength, his life, his mind succumb. Man is no stronger for being multiplied in excess and squandered, as it were, with heedless disregard: in such climates life and death wield equal power. In Benares the earth yields three harvests each year. Torrential rains turn a moor into a meadow. The reed of that land is the sixty-foot bamboo. The tree is the Indian fig, which produces a forest from a single root. Under these monstrous plants, monsters roam. The tiger lurks on the riverbank, stalking the hippopotamus, which it seizes in a single bound of ten times six feet. A herd of wild elephants storms through the forest, toppling trees left and right. And all the while, terrifying storms remove mountains and cholera morbus mows down millions.

7Meeting disproportionate force everywhere, crushed by nature, man does not attempt to fight; he surrenders to her unconditionally. He drinks and drinks again from the intoxicating chalice that Siva fills to the brim with life and death; he drinks deep draughts of it, plunges into it, loses himself in it, abandons his being to it, and confesses, in transports of somber desperation, that God is all and all is God, that he himself is but an accident, a fleeting emanation of that unique substance. Or else, by means of a proud and patient immobility, he denies the existence of that hostile nature and avenges himself by logic on the reality that obliterates him.

8Or, again, he flees westward and, approaching Persia, begins the long journey and the progressive unfettering of human liberty.

9“In Persia,” the young Cyrus says in Xenophon, “winter and summer are present at the same time.” A light, dry atmosphere clears the head of the thick vapors that dull it in India. The land, arid on the surface, conceals in its bosom a thousand bubbling springs that seem to cry out for agricultural activity. Liberty awakens here and makes its presence known by a hatred of the previous state: the gods of India become dives, demonic forces; the sacred images are now considered idols: no more statues, no more art. Thus the iconoclastic genius of the heroic peoples presents itself at its wellspring. A multifarious divinity that prostituted spirit to matter in a confusion of infinite forms, the impious sanctity of a god-world, is succeeded by a dualism of light—pure, intelligent light and unclean, corporeal light. The former must prevail and its victory is the designated end for man and for the world. Since religion addresses itself to the interior man, the priesthood appears only to show its powerlessness. Every year the adherents of magism celebrate the massacre of the magi. Here we no longer find the passivity of the Indian, who can avenge his oppression only by killing himself before the very eyes of his oppressor.

10Persia is the beginning of liberty within fatality. Here religion chooses its gods from a less material nature, but still from nature. These gods are: light, fire, celestial fire, and the sun. Azerbaidjan is the land of fire. The fecund and homicidal heat of the Caspian shores reminds us of India, which we thought we had escaped. A sense of universal instability gives the Persian an indifference that hampers his natural activity. Persia is the great highway of human kind; the Tartars on one side, the Arabs on the other, all the peoples of Asia have stopped, each in turn, in this caravanserai. Thus the men of this land have hardly troubled to erect any solid structures. In modern Isfahan, as in ancient Babylon, one builds with mud brick. The houses are lightly constructed kiosks, elegant pavilions, forms of tent raised in transit. One does not live in one’s father’s tent; everyone builds his own, and it dies when he does. One does not even save food for the morrow; what remains at evening is given to the poor. Thus human activity, at its first stirring, subsides again in discouragement and expires in indifference. Man seeks self-forgetfulness in intoxication. Not, as in India, in the intoxication of nature. Intoxication here is voluntary. In cold opium the Persian finds the dreams of a fantastical life and, ultimately, the repose of death.

11Human liberty, which does not die, pursues its unfettering from Egypt to Judea, as it did from India to Persia. Egypt is the gift of the Nile. This is the river that carried from Ethiopia not only men and civilization, but also earth itself. In the sixteenth century the great Albuquerque conceived a plan to destroy Egypt. It would suffice to turn the Nile and make it empty into the Red Sea. Soon enough the sand of the desert would have buried the entire country. Every summer the river, descending from unknown mountains, comes to provide the year’s subsistence. Anyone witnessing this precarious wonder, on which his very life depended, was already vanquished by nature. Generative power, fecundity, almighty Isis ruled his mind and kept him bent over his furrow. Nonetheless, liberty found a way to emerge. Egypt, like India, connected it to the dogma of the immortality of the soul. Human personality, rejected by this world, seized upon the other. Sometimes, even in this life, it rose against the tyranny of the gods. The brothers Cheops and Chephrem, who forbade sacrifices and were denounced by the priests, are thought to have been the founders of the pyramids, those tombs that were intended to eclipse all the temples. Thus the greatest monument of Egypt, that world of fatality, is the protest of humanity.

12But human liberty did not rest in its flight until it reached the mountains of Judea. It sacrificed the meat and onions of Egypt and left its fertile valley for the rocky outcroppings of Cedron and the sandy shores of the Dead Sea. It cursed the golden calf of Egypt as Persia had shattered the idols of India. One god, one temple. Judges, then kings, take precedence over the priest. Eli and Samuel try to institute a priestly reign and fail. The leaders of the people are the strongmen who free it from the foreigner: a Gideon and his three hundred; an Aod, who fights with his two hands; a Samson, who carries away the city gates of his enemies on his shoulders; a David, who does not hesitate to eat the loaves of proposition. And then, alongside the heroic genius, the priest sees human liberty raise an even more formidable enemy from within the very order of religious things: seers, prophets arise among the people and communicate with God without passing by way of the temple. Among the Persians, nature prolonged her reign, not without struggle, within religion; among the Jews, she is dethroned. Light itself becomes shadow at the advent of the spirit; duality gives way to unity. For this little world of unity and spirit, a tiny spot of space between the mountains and the deserts is enough. It has been placed in the East only to condemn the East. With equal horror, it hears the lubricious chants of Astarte and the growls of Moloch echoing over rugged Libanon. Let the wandering horde of Araby, rootless and lawless, come out of the south: Israel recognizes Ismael as his brother but does not extend his hand. Let the foreigner perish: the holy city will not open her gates. She is content to keep in her tabernacle the priceless store of unity that the world will return to request of her on bended knee after it has begun, with Greece and Rome, its great work in the West.

13If, in the realm of natural history, the animals of a superior order, man and the quadrupeds, are the most articulated, the most capable of the various motions that their activity stamps on them, if, among languages, those are best that respond by the variety of their inflections, the richness of their turns of phrase, the suppleness of their forms to the infinite requirements of intelligence, shall we not conclude that in geography, too, certain countries have been designed according to a more fortunate plan: better chiseled into gulfs and ports, better bounded by seas and mountains, better laced by valleys and rivers, better articulated, if I may use that term, which is to say, more capable of accomplishing all that liberty will want to derive from them. If you compare our little Europe with shapeless, massive Asia, how much more aptitude for movement does she not announce to the observing eye? Even in their common traits, Europe has the advantage. Both continents have three peninsulas to the south: the chunky square of Spain and that of Araby; the long spine of Italy and that of Hindustan, each with a great river in the north and an island to the south; finally, the swarm of isles and peninsulas, here called Greece and there, the second India. But gloomy Asia looks out upon the ocean, upon endlessness; she seems to be expecting of the South Pole a continent that does not yet exist. The peninsulas that Europe projects to the south are arms extended toward Africa, while to the north she girds her loins, like a mighty athlete, with Scandinavia and England. Her head belongs to France and her feet plunge down into the fecund barbarism of Asia. Note the powerful sinews on this marvelous body, extending from the Alps to the Pyrenees, and to the Carpathians and the Haimos, and the imperceptible marvel that is Greece in all the jostling variety of her hills and torrents, her capes and gulfs, in the multiplicity of her curves and angles, so vividly and cleverly set off. Consider her against the motionless straight line of unvarying Egypt: she twitches and flickers there on the map, a true symbol of mobility in our mobile West.

14Europe is free soil: the slave who alights here is released from bondage, as was humanity, in flight from Asia. In the stern world of the West, nature gives nothing spontaneously; she imposes the exercise of liberty as ineluctable law. Therefore it was necessary to close ranks against the enemy and form the tight association that is the city.

15This little world, enclosed by walls, drew the family and humanity into its artful unity. It set itself up in an eternal war against whatever persisted of the natural life of the eastern tribe. The form in which the Pelasgians had perpetuated Asia in Europe was obliterated by Athens and by Rome. In this contest the three great moments of Greece define themselves: she attacks Asia in the Trojan War, repulses Asia at Salamis, and masters Asia with Alexander. But she masters Asia even better within herself and within the very walls of the city. She masters Asia when, with polygamy, she represses the sensuality of nature, which had maintained itself even in Judea, and declares woman to be the helpmate of man. She masters Asia when she reduces its gigantic idols to human scale and in so doing renders them capable of beauty and perfection. The gods reluctantly let themselves be drawn out of the gloomy sanctuary of India and of Egypt, to live in the light of day and on the public square. They descend from their majestic symbolism and take on common concerns. Until then they had contained the state within their immensity. In Greece they must become citizens, quit unbounded space and adopt a place, a country, make themselves small so as to fit within the city. These are the Dorian gods, those the Ionian; they are classed by the name of their worshipers. But, in recompense, see how they prosper among the people, how they follow in the rapid progress of humanity. The Pallas of the Iliad is a bloodthirsty, savage goddess who fights with Mars and wounds him with a stone. In the Odyssey she is the very voice of order and reason, interceding with the father of the gods in behalf of man.

16What made Greece beautiful among beauteous things is this: placed at the midpoint where the divine is still divine and yet already human, where, working itself free of fatal nature, the flower of liberty opens into bloom, Greece has remained for the world the very type of the moment of beauty, of a beauty physical and still motionless, for Greek art hardly went beyond statuary. In literature this moment is that of Herodotos, of Plato and Sophocles; a brief moment, irrecoverable, which the manly wisdom of humankind cannot mourn, but which returns in memory with all the charm of first love.

17In its very beauty this little world carries the seeds of its destruction. Beauty must fade; the grace of youth must give way to maturity; the child must become a man. Once Aristotle has clarified Greek learning, reduced it to prose, and codified it, once Alexander has spread Greece from the Hellespont to the Indus, it is all over. The son of Philip dreamed that all the world was a city and his phalanx its citadel. The Greek city is too constricted for that dream to come true; this requires a wider world, a world that brings together the character of both the tribe and the city. The fickle gods of Greece must take on greater gravity; they must emerge from art, which keeps them captive in matter, and free themselves from homeric Destiny, which keeps them under the heavy hand of Asia. Woman must leave the women’s quarters and be effectively delivered from servitude. Atop the ruins of a Greek world carried wide and then destroyed lies its indestructible element, its atom, by which we will judge it, as one classes a shattered crystal by its last node. This node is the individual as conceived by Stoicism: self-collected, self-reliant, requiring nothing of the gods, accusing them of nothing, not even deigning to deny them.

18The world of Greece was pure struggle: struggle against Asia, struggle within Greece itself, contest of the Ionians and the Dorians, of Sparta and Athens. Greece has two cities: that is to say, here the city is incomplete. Great Rome encloses the two cities, the two races within her walls: Etruscan and Latin, sacerdotal and heroic, eastern and western, patrician and plebeian, real property and movable property, stability and progress, nature and liberty.

19Here the family reappears within the city; the domestic hearth of the Pelasgians is lit again on the altar of Vesta. The dualism of Persia returns, but it has passed from gods to men, from abstraction to reality, from religious metaphysics to civil law. The presence of two races within the same walls, their opposed interests, the need for equilibrium mark the beginning of that legal war before a judge whose formal qualities are the subject of jurisprudence. The warrior heroism of Persia and of Greece, that youthful love of combat, now becomes more temperate and consents to use no weapon within the city other than words. In this single combat fought with words, as in a war of conquest, the adversaries are eternally the one who possesses and the one who demands. The one has on his side authority, precedence, and written law; his feet rest securely on the ground in which he is rooted. The other, an athlete in motion, is armed with interpretation; time is on his side. The task of the judge, swept along by time, will be precisely to save the frozen letter by infusing it with spirit, perpetually renewed. Thus does liberty match wits with fatality and the law advance toward greater humaneness through ambiguity.

20Rome is not an exclusive world. Within its walls, the city opens more and more to plebeians; without, it opens to Latium, to Italy, and to all the provinces. Just as the Roman family grows by adoption, extends itself, and divides by emancipation, the city adopts citizens, then entire towns under the name municipes, even while it propagates itself endlessly in its colonies: on each conquest it sets down a young Rome that represents the metropole.

21Thus, whereas the Greek city, colonizing but never adopting, scattered itself abroad and was bound to die of exhaustion in the long run, Rome expands and contracts with the regularity of a living organism. She breathes in, if I may use the expression, the Latin, Sabine, and Etruscan peoples, they become Romans, and she breathes them out into her colonies.

22In this fashion she assimilated the whole world. Western barbarism—Spain, Britain and Gaul—eastern civilization—Greece, Egypt, Asia, Syria—all in turn were caught in the current. The Semitic world resisted. Carthage was demolished, Judea thrown to the winds. All the rest were raised, despite themselves, to the level of uniform language, law, and religion. All became, willingly or not, Italians, Romans, senators, emperors. The Flavians, coming after the Caesars, who were Romans and patricians, are only Italians; the Antonines are Spaniards or Gauls; then the East asserts its rights against the West, and the African and Syrian emperors appear: Septimus, Caracalla, Heliogabalus, Alexander Severus; finally the provincials of the center: the tough peasants of Illyria, the Aurelians, the Probuses; barbarians even, Philip the Arab, Maximinus the Goth. Even before the empire was invaded, the imperial purple had been conquered by all nations.

23This magnificent adoption of the peoples long led the Romans to believe that they had accomplished the great work of humanity. Capitoli immobile saxum ... res romanae, perituraque regna... Like Alexander, Rome deceived herself. She thought she was realizing the universal, the eternal city. And all the while the barbarians, the Christians, the slaves were protesting, each in their own way, that Rome was not the city of the world, and in different ways they pulled that factitious unity apart.

24The heroic world of Greece and Rome, leaving all handicrafts to those whom they had conquered, to the slaves, did not pursue very far that victory of man over nature that we call industry. The old industrial races, the Pelasgians and other tribes, were reduced to servitude and perished. Then among the conquerors themselves the lower tribes perished, the Achaians, etc. And among the conquerors of the conquerors—Dorians, Ionians, Romans—the poor perished in their turn. He who has will have more; he who has little will have less and less, if industry does not throw a bridge across the gap that separates rich and poor. The economy caused the work of slaves, that is to say, of chattels, to be preferred to the work of men. The economy caused these chattels to be treated like chattels: if they perished, the master bought more, at a good price, and at a profit. The Syrians, Bithynians, Thracians, Germans, and Gauls long provisioned the greedy and murderous landscapes of Greece and Italy. All the while, the cancer of slavery was gaining ground and before long it could no longer be fed. Whereupon depopulation set in, preparing a place for the barbarians, who would come soon and willingly to the marketplaces of Rome—but as free men, and armed—to avenge their ancestors.

25Long before this material, definitive dissolution of the empire, a powerful moral dissolution was at work on it internally. Greece and the East, which Rome thought she had subjugated, had invaded Rome instead and subjected her. From the time of the wars of Philip and Antiochos, the elegant gods of Athens had been finding their way into the Roman temples, under the names of the ancient Latin divinities, and occupying the altars of the conqueror gods. The Roman barbarian took up the study of Greece. He adopted its language, imitated its literature, reread the Phaido at Utica, died at Philippi reciting Euripides, and cried out in Greek under the blows of Brutus’s dagger. The literary manifestation of this hellenized Rome is the Augustan Age; its fruit was Marcus Aurelius, the ideal of antique morality.

26Behind Greece, the eastern world, having melded with Greece at Alexandria, was advancing toward that intellectual conquest of Rome. The translation of the empire into the East, brought about by Constantine, had been attempted early by Antony. He aimed to turn an eastern city into the capital of the world. Cleopatra swore: By the laws that I shall promulgate in the Capitol. For her to keep her word, the East would first have to conquer the West by the power of ideas. Alexandria was at least the center of that world inimical to Rome, the hearth on which all the beliefs, all the philosophies of Asia and of Europe simmered, the Rome of the intellectual world.

27These beliefs, these religions did not gain easy entry into Rome. In rejecting the bacchanals, a horrified Rome had repulsed the first manifestation of the orgiastic cult of nature. But then a moment later, the painted priests of Cybele lead in the lion of the good goddess, amazing the people by their frenzied dances, their revolting trappings, lacerating their arms and legs and laughing at their wounds. Their god is ambiguous Atis, whose death and resurrection they celebrate by laughter and by tears. Then comes gloomy Serapis, yet another god of life and death. All the while, below the Capitol, beneath the very throne of Jupiter, gory Mithras is hollowing out a subterranean chapel, regenerating the man who thirsts for expiation in the filthy bath of the horrible bull sacrifice. Finally, a sect that emerged among the Jews, and that they rejected, also celebrates death and life; its God was executed like a slave. Tacitus does not know what to make of this new company. His sole acquaintance with the Christians is that he saw the festivals and gardens of Nero lit by the light of their burning corpses.

28The difference between Christianity and the other eastern religions of life and death was, however, profound. These plunged man into matter; they took as their symbol the obscene sign of life and generation. Christianity embraced the spirit, embraced death, and adopted its funereal sign. Life, nature, matter, fatality were immolated. The body and the flesh, sanctified until then, were marked in its very temples by the sign of what consumes them: with horror one saw the worm that was gnawing them on the altar. Liberty, famished for pain, rushed to the amphitheater and relished being put to death.

29I have gladly kissed the wooden cross that stands upright in the middle of the Coliseum, vanquished by it. How the young Christian faith must have embraced it as it entered among the lions and the leopards in that arena! Even today, whatever the future may bring, is that cross, more solitary with each passing day, not still the sole refuge of the religious soul? The altar has lost its place of honor, humanity slowly withdraws from it; but I ask you, oh, tell me if you know: has any other altar been erected?

30In the arena of the Coliseum, the Christian and the barbarian meet, representing liberty for the East and for the West. We were born of their union, we and all the future.

  • 3 Michelet translates the passage from Childe Harold rather freely into French. It appears more full (...)

31“I see before me the gladiator lie/… And his droop’d head sinks gradually low/ … The arena swims around him—he is gone,/ Ere ceased the inhuman shout… / He heard it, but… his eyes… his heart [were] far away/… where his rude hut by the Danube lay/… his young barbarians all at play/… and their… mother… He… / Butchered to make Rome a holiday/… Shall he expire,/ And unavenged! —Arise! ye Goths…!”3 May the Empire crumble and the circus, and that city drunk with blood!

32Alaric protested that a fatal impetus was driving him against Rome. He sacked it and died. The arrière-ban of the barbarians—Goths, Burgundians, Heruli—revered the mysterious majesty of the city that no one violated unpunished. Even the man who boasted that no grass grew where his horse had passed wheeled about and left Italy. The first barbarians were either intimidated or seduced by the city they were coming to destroy. They made terms with the Roman genius and retained the institution of slavery. It was not their task to restore the world.

  • 4 The ideas about the character of the Franks that follow here have been modified slightly by the au (...)

33Then came the Franks,4 children of Odin, raging for pillage and warfare, craving wounds and death as others crave festivals and banquets, impatient to go drink beer from the skulls of their enemies in Walhalla. That sort went into battle nearly naked, leaped into a bark to round the Ocean, from the Bosporos to Batavia. Under their savage and pitiless rule domestic slavery nonetheless disappeared; it was followed by serfdom, itself a deliverance for oppressed humanity.

34These barbarians brought a virginal nature to the Church. And the Church captured them. The Goths and the Burgundians, who saw in Jesus only a man, had received from Christianity neither its poetry nor its powerful unity. The Frank adopted the God-man, adopted a purified Rome, and took the name of Caesar. The swirling chaos of barbarism, which had sought to come to rest and become one since the time of Attila and of Theodoric, found its center in Charlemagne.

35This unity, material and deceptive still, lasted one lifetime; falling into ruin, it left behind to rule Europe an episcopal aristocracy and a feudal aristocracy, crowned by pope and emperor respectively. A marvelous system in which the empire of God and the empire of man organized themselves and took up position face to face. In the feudal organization: material might, the flesh, and heredity; in the Church: the word, the spirit, and election. Might on every side, spirit at the center, spirit dominating might. Men of iron bent their rigid armor before an invisible sword; the son of a serf could put his foot on the neck of Frederick Barbarossa. Not only did the spirit dominate might; it swept might along in its train. The world of might, subjugated by the spirit, expressed itself in the crusades, a war of Europe against Asia, a war of sacred liberty against sensual and impious nature. For immediate purposes, however, it needed a material symbol of this opposition; that was the deliverance of the sepulcher of Jesus Christ. Everyone, men and women, young and old, set out, without arms, without provisions, without vessels, quite sure that God would feed them, defend them, and carry them over the seas. And little children, too, a contemporary reports, followed in carriages and in their simplicity asked as they caught sight of the walls of every city, “Isn’t that Jerusalem?”

36Thus the long miracle of the Middle Ages accomplished itself over the term of a thousand years, that marvelous legend whose traces vanish daily from the face of the earth and which one would have doubted in a few centuries had it not fixed itself, crystallized itself for all eternity in the steeples, the spires, and the rose windows, in the countless arches of the cathedrals of Cologne and Strasbourg, in the five thousand marble statues that crown the cathedral of Milan. In contemplating this silent army of apostles and prophets, of saints and doctors rising in echelons from earth to heaven, who will not recognize the City of God raising men’s minds up to Him? Each of those spires leaping upward is a prayer, an impotent vow stopped in its flight by the tyranny of matter. The steeple, shooting into the sky with such prodigious lift, protests before the Most High that at least there has been no want of will. All around, the fatal world of paganism growls and grimaces in the mongrel faces of a thousand hideous beasts, while at their feet barbarian warriors stand frozen in the attitude in which the spell of the Christian Word has caught them. In all eternity they will not recover themselves.

37But the spell has been broken for humankind at large. The ultimate expression of Christianity in art, the Cologne cathedral, was broken off unfinished. Those immense naves proved too narrow for the invading multitude. A man in black arose among the people, a legist against the priestly alb, to oppose law with law. The shopkeeper came out of his dark shop to sound the communal alarm and bar his little winding street to the man on horseback. And then the man (was it a man?) who lived on all fours on his little patch of ground stood erect with a terrible laugh and struck the noble lord and his magnificent charger dead with a leveling ball, right through their useless armor.

38Liberty has prevailed; justice has prevailed. The world of fatality has crumbled to dust. Spiritual power itself had set aside its title by invoking the protection of material might. The advancing triumph of the self, the age-old work of unfettering man, begun with the profanation of the tree of knowledge, has resumed. The world’s heroic principle, liberty, long accursed and confounded with fatality under the name Satan, has appeared under its true name. Little by little, man has broken with the natural world of Asia and by industry and examination has fashioned a world sprung from liberty. He has removed himself from the nature-god of fatality, an exclusive divinity and treacherous mother who chose among her children, to reach the pure god, the god of the soul, who does not distinguish man from man and opens to all, in society, in religion, the parity of love and of the father’s bosom.


39How was the task of unfettering humankind accomplished in Europe? In what proportion did each of the political personages that are called states—France, Italy, England, and Germany—contribute to it?

40Since the age of Greece and Rome, the world has lost the visible unity that gives the history of antiquity so simple and dramatic a character. Modern Europe is an organism of great complexity whose unity, whose heart and soul, lies not in one preponderant party or another, but rather in the relations among these parties and in how they are arranged with respect to one another in their deep meshing, in their innermost harmony. We cannot say what France has done, what she is and will be without addressing these questions to the assembled whole of the European world. France can only be explained by what surrounds her. Her personality can be grasped only by one who knows the other states that characterize her by their opposition.

41The world of civilization is guarded at its two gates, toward Africa and toward Asia, by the Spanish and the Slavs, both sworn to an eternal crusade, Christian barbarians against Muslim barbarism. This world has as its two poles, north and south, Italy and Scandinavia. The fatality of race and climate weighs heavily on these extreme points.

42At the center sprawls Germany the ill-defined. Like the Oder and the Waal, those vagrant rivers that set her limits so badly to east and west, Germany, too, has changed her banks one hundred times, both toward Poland and toward France. One need only follow, if one can, the capricious meanderings that the German language traces in Prussia and in Silesia, in Switzerland and in Lorraine, and in the Low Countries. As for the people, we find them everywhere. Germany has given her Swabians to Switzerland and to Sweden, her Goths to Spain, her Lombards to Lombardy, her Anglo-Saxons to England, her Franks to France. She has named and renewed all the populations of Europe. Language and people—this fecund stream has flowed and penetrated everywhere.

43Even today, long after the time of the great migrations, the German loves to go abroad and to receive the foreigner at home. He is the most hospitable of men. Go in beneath that steeply sloping roof, into that ugly house of painted timbers, boldly take your place near the fire; never fear: you are obliging your host. Such is the partiality of the Germans for the foreigner. The Austrian, the Swabian, so maltreated by our troops, often wept at the departure of the French. In any smoky hovel you will find all the newspapers of France. The German has a feeling for the world; he loves and adopts the fashions and the ideas of other peoples; but he reserves the right to speak ill of them.

44The characteristic mark of this race, which was to mix with so many others, is easy self-abnegation. The vassal gives himself to his lord; the student and the artisan give themselves to their corporations. In these associations, self-interest is secondary; the essential thing is a gathering of friends, mutual help, and those rites, symbols, and initiations that are a religion of choice for the members. The communal table is an altar on which the German makes a sacrifice of egoism; one man surrenders his heart to another, and his dignity and reason to the pleasures of the senses. Laughable, touching mysteries of old Germany: baptism by beer, sacred symbolism of smiths and masons, solemn initiations of coopers and carpenters. Little enough remains of all this, but in that little, one still finds that sympathetic, disinterested spirit.

45No surprise then that in Germany we first see a man make himself the liege of another, put his hands into the hands of the other and vow to die for him. This selfless, unconditional devotion, which the peoples of the south find so laughable, has nonetheless been the grandeur of the Germanic race. This is how the ancient bands that conquered the Empire, gathered each around a chief, founded the modern monarchies. They gave their lives to this chief of their choosing; they gave him their very glory. In the ancient German lays all the exploits of the nation are attributed to a handful of heroes. In the chief is concentrated the honor of the people, of which he becomes the colossal type. Might, beauty, grandeur, all the noble feats of arms are massed in Siegfried, Dietrich, Frederick Barbarossa, in Rudolf of Hapsburg. Their faithful companions kept back nothing for themselves.

46Above the lord, above the counts and dukes, and the electors and the Emperor, at the very apex of the hierarchy, Germany has placed woman (Frau). Velleda, says Tacitus, was worshiped in her lifetime. An ancient minnesinger places woman on a throne, with twelve stars for a crown and a man’s head for her footstool. If poetry is anywhere an affair of the heart, it is here. The minnelieder are full of infantine tears, of that abandoned suffering which is a sorrow to itself and can no longer find expression. Here you will find neither jongleurs, nor gai savoir, even less the frivolous dialectics of the cours d’amour. The object of these lays is ideal woman, the Virgin, who makes them forget God and the saints. It is all greensward and flowers; this last they never exhaust. This poetry, childlike and profound at once, lets itself be led by the magnetic attraction of nature, which it will deify in the end. The German genius, an admirable mixture of force and of childhood, comes before me in the figure of Wolfram’s Parsifal, that mighty knight whom the care of a timid mother has kept in the innocence and touching ignorance of first youth. He escapes and finds his way through forests and wildernesses to the city of miracles. But a wounded bird stains the snow with three drops of blood, and the hero sees in these colors the rose and white of his one true love. He stops, lost in a dream, contemplating in present reality the ideal that fills his mind. Woe betide any who try to put an end to the dream; without budging from the spot, he unhorses the knights who come one after another to rip him from his reverie.

47Thus does the abnegation and profound disinterestedness of the German genius first burst forth in feudal devotion, in love and poetry. Deceived by the finite, it addresses itself to the infinite. Having sacrificed itself to its lord and its lady, what will it refuse its God? Nothing, not even its morality, its liberty. It will throw everything into that abyss; it will melt man into the universe and the universe into God. Having been prepared by Protestant mysticism, it will have no difficultly adopting Schelling’s pantheism, and the adultery of matter and spirit will be consummated anew. Dear God, where do we now find ourselves? We have been plunged back into India. Could we then have made this long journey in vain? At this point the universal sympathy, or the universal indifference, of the German genius manifests itself, with its immoral consequences. All religion, all philosophy, all history, whatever comes—the author of Faust, the Faust of our own time, will reflect them, will absorb them into the ocean of his poetry.

48Yes, Germany is India in Europe, vast, vague, shifting, and fecund, like her God, the Proteus of pantheism. As long as the Indo-Germanic tribe was not contained and shut in by the strong barriers of surrounding monarchies, it spilled over, spread out over Europe, which it changed as it, too, was changed. Left at the time to its natural mobility, the tribe knew neither walls nor towns. “Every family,” says Tacitus, “stops where it will, in a wood, on a meadow, by a spring.” But as the floodtide of another barbarism, of Slavs, Avars, and Hungarians, was rising in the rear, and France to the west was closing up, the Germans had to press together in order not to lose their footing, had to build strongholds, invent towns. They had to pledge themselves to dukes and counts, gather themselves into circles, into provinces. Tossed down in the middle of Europe as a battleground for all wars, Germany attached herself, for good or ill, to feudalism and remained barbarian in order not to perish. This is what explains the marvelous spectacle of a race forever young and virginal, which one sees engaged as if by magic in a transparent civilization, the way liquid caught up quickly remains fluid at the center of a faulty crystal. Hence the bizarre contrasts that make Germany into a land of monstrous diversity. Some states of twenty million souls, others of twenty thousand. An infinite splintering, an infinitely varied law of feudal lordships; and, alongside, a grand monarchy disciplined like a regiment. Towns built yesterday, all in white, leveled, aligned, drawn at right angles, tedious, sullen little Londons. Others, like our good Nuremberg, where the houses, grotesquely painted, still preach the gospel to passersby; or, to bring together all these contrasts, learned libraries in the middle of the forest, and stags coming to drink under the balconies of electors. These surface contrasts only express oppositions of custom. The slavery of serfdom, and free medieval communes: everything is to be found in this curious museum, where every step in space is also a journey in time. In many provinces, woman is a servant, as she was the servant of the barbarian warrior, which does not prevent her being deified by the ideal genius of chivalry.

49The strongest of all these contradictions is the one that keeps a people open to innovation and enamored of foreign things even under the yoke of the Middle Ages. So little tenacity and yet such permanence of usage and custom! What Germany lacks is surely not desire for change, for independence. How many times has she not risen, only to fall back again soon after. The ancient Saxon genius, Germany’s eternal political opposition, the fierce pride of the Scandinavian tribes, the whole North protests against the pantheistic bent of the southern provinces. It refuses to lose its personality in a man, in God, or in nature. This attitude of the North displays itself with magnificent ostentation. In Iceland the gods will die like us. Man was here before them; the universe was carved from the limbs of a giant. Who do you believe in? Saint Olaf asked one of his warriors. I believe in myself, the man replied. How is it then that this proud genius always falls back so quickly, in religion into mysticism, in politics into despotism? Sweden, champion of Protestant freedom under Gustavus-Adolfus, submitted to the Rosicrucians. Who spoke louder than Luther against the tyranny of Rome—only to destroy the doctrine of free will? In Luther’s lifetime, at his very table, began the mysticism that would triumph in Boehme. Kant inscribed on his standard: Critique and Liberty. Germany intended to be strong and free at last—and for safety’s sake, she locked herself into the shackles of a terrible formalism. But this inconstant nature always slipped free, by means of art and feeling, by means of Goethe and Jacobi. Then came Fichte, that inflexible stoic and ardent patriot. To liberate mankind he resorted to the sole remaining means: he did away with the world, just as he would have liked to deliver Germany by doing away with France. Vain hopes of mere men! Fichte’s philosophy, Koerner’s songs, 1814: all ended in sleep, a troubled sleep, no doubt. Germany let herself be lulled back to sleep with the pantheism of Schelling, and if the North escaped by means of Hegel, it was only to violate the sacred refuge of human liberty, to turn history to stone. In their hands, the social world became a god, a frozen god, a god without feeling, wholly suited to console and prolong the national lethargy.

50No indeed. Great Germany, learned and powerful Germany has no right to despise little Italy, which she overwhelms. Italy at least can plead the languor of the climate, the disproportionate forces of the conquerors, her long disorganization. Give her time, this ancient mistress of the world, this old rival of Germania. What caused the humiliation of Italy as a people, what subjected her to mild, easily disciplined Germany is precisely the indomitable personality, the undisciplinable originality that keeps individuals apart in Italy.

51The instinct for abnegation that we found in Germany is foreign to Italy. In this respect, and in all others, the opposition between the two peoples is sharp. The Italian has no intention of abnegating himself, of losing himself, with God and the world, in one and the same idealism. He makes God come down to him, materializes him, forms him at his pleasure, and seeks here an objet d’art. He makes of religion, often in good faith, an object of government. Down through the ages, it appears to him under the aspect of practical utility. Etruscan divination was the art of ambushing the gods’ knowledge of the interests of the world, it was part of politics and jurisprudence. The prayers and formulas of augury are veritable contracts with the gods. The augur looks for the most precise terms, never promises too much, undertakes nothing, takes precautions against the other party. He has no fear of taxing the gods with questions and new stipulations. To find the finest fruits, to recover a lost bird, one took the divining rod and traced the sacred lines.

52Canon law, like the law of augury, pertained to the government of this world. We know how artfully the Roman church reached and regulated all human action, as the stuff of sin. Theology, for good or ill, was subsumed into jurisprudence; the popes were legists. “We here know the affairs of God better than you men of law,” a king of France wrote them.

53Italy alone had a civil architecture in the various eras when other nations knew only religious architecture. The word pontifex means builder of bridges. Etruscan monuments, different in this respect from those of the East, all have practical utility as their purpose. These are city walls, aqueducts, tombs; one hears less about Etruscan temples. Medieval Italy built many churches, but they were the venues of political assemblies. While Germany, England, and France were erecting only religious edifices, Italy was building roads and canals. Thus Germany surpassed Italy in the construction of her immense cathedrals. Gian Galeazzo Sforza was obliged to ask Strasbourg for architects to close the vaults of the Milan cathedral.

54If Italian individuality does not give itself to God unconditionally, then how much less likely is it to give itself to man! You will find in medieval Italy more than one image of feudalism—heavy armor, mighty chargers, fortified castles—but never the very essence of feudalism, one man’s pledged faith to another. Italian heroism is of a higher order. What care has it of a mortal man, a flesh that will perish, and a heart that will soon beat no more? It knows how to die (though it does not seek death), but to die for an idea. I know of a certain man in a certain fortress who amid the harshest trials will keep the secret of liberty to the death. In the eyes of the compatriots of Machiavelli, every other kind of devotion is simplemindedness, infantilism. Adventurous questing after useless perils, the deification of woman, the religion of fidelity, the dreamlike transports of a feudal world—all this excites their inextinguishable laughter. Their chivalric poem is the satire of chivalry, Orlando Furioso. They have no associations, neither industrial nor military, if not for a specific purpose, for an interest, an idea.

55The Italian genius is passionate but stern, a stranger to vague sympathies. This is not the natural world of family and of tribe; it is the artificial world of the city. Confined by nature in the narrow valleys of the Apennines, isolated by rivers hard to navigate, it closes itself up yet again within walls. There it rules, far from nature, in marble palaces, where it lives on harmony, rhythm, and number. If it emerges, it is to build rock gardens for its villas. From the first it is characterized by the harmony of civil life, by legislation and by jurisprudence. After countless barbarian invasions, indestructible Roman law reappears at Bologna and throughout Italy. The subtleties of Tribonianus are made yet more subtle by Accursio and Bartolus of Sassoferrato. With the jurists, mathematicians return. Cardano and Tartaglia perpetuate Archytas and Pythagoras. Their abstract geometry is received into the concrete geometry of architecture, which is the art of the material city, as legislation is the art of the moral city. At Rome and Florence the human figure reproduces in painting the severity, sometimes the spareness of architecture. Only in the north, in the Venetian palette and in Lombard grace, does painting consent to humanize man. As to nature, it will rarely dare to show itself in painting: few landscapes, little descriptive poetry in Italy.

56Poetry here takes its inspiration from the genius of the city. To be sure, this is a land where everyone sings; the climate loosens every tongue. But the true Italian poet is the architect of the invisible city whose symbolic circles are the setting of the Divina Commedia. Dante is the complete expression of the Italian idea of rhythm and number; he has measured, drawn, and sung his inferno. And it is in the harmonic form of the city that history and humanity appeared before the founder of the philosophy of history, the Dante of Italy’s age of prose, Giambatista Vico. In the duality of corso and ricorso, in the threefold ages, in the geometric beauty of its form, the Scienza nuova represents for me the rhythmic beauty of Etruria and of pythagorean Greece.

57Even when the Italian leaves the city, he takes its image with him and imprints it everywhere. We know with what strict exactitude Etruscan religion and Roman politics measured and mapped the open fields. The agrimensor and the haruspex followed after the conquering legions everywhere to cast the new colony on the sacred model of the metropole. Whereas among the German nations a man attaches himself to his plot of ground, puts down roots, and loves to take his name from his estate, the Italian gives it his. He sees there only one more connection with the city, only a matter of civil interest. The jurist and the military strategist will come to reconnoiter the territory and correct or shift the boundaries, to transfer or hold the property, according to the diverse means of their respective arts.

58Italy is the mother of tactics as of jurisprudence. In the hands of the Italian condottieri—the Alberics, the Sforzas, and the Malatestas of Romagna, the Braccios, the Baglionis, and the Piccininos of Umbria—war became a science. Italy furnished the Levant with engineers. The founders of military architecture are Italians. The foremost captain of antiquity, Caesar, belongs to Italy; the foremost of modern times was a man of the Italian race adopted by France. If we knew nothing of Napoleon’s origins, would not the character of his genius, poetic and practical at once, the austere beauty of his profile make us recognize the compatriot of Machiavelli and of Dante?

  • 5 A considerable number of Italians were among the foreigners who fought for the freedom of France i (...)

59It is time to be done with those preposterous declamations on the weakness of the Italian character. Do you intend to judge the value of the Italians by the populace of Naples? You might just as well judge France by the canuts of Lyon. Let us leave it to English gentlemen and German poets to go seeking inspiration for their sublime contempt and large-minded rage at the tables of the Italians of Rome and Milan. Did they not also insult Greece in her tomb, on the very eve of her resurrection? Frivolous, cruel men who conflate Lazzaroni and Romagnoli, heroes and cowards under the same opprobrium, have you forgotten Bonaparte’s Italian army and all the feats of arms of the Piedmontese? And just lately, did those whom you accused of not knowing how to draw their swords for their country not in fact know how to die for you?5

60Italy has changed, we hear, and that is held to explain and justify her woes. But I maintain that no people has remained more like itself. I have already noted the continuity of the Italian genius from ancient to modern times. I will find it only too easy to trace that continuity in any number of less important details.

61The national costume is almost the same, at least among the people. I see the venetus cucullus everywhere, the long steel hairpins of the women, necklaces and rings like those recovered at Pompeii, even sandals and the pileus that you will find near Fondi.

62The diet is comparable. In the towns, the same narrow streets. The thermopoles, now called cafés. The prandium at midday, the siesta, and the evening promenade. In every age, the same crowd gathered around the improviser, whether he is called Statius or Dante or Sgricci. In the filosofi of Venice, the open-air literati, we meet the Ennianistae of antiquity. Only, Ariosto and Tasso have taken the place of Ennius.

63In the countryside, the same system of cultivation. The plow is the one that Virgil describes. In Tuscany the cattle are, as always, penned up and fed on foliage so that they will not damage the vines and the olive trees. In other parts, they still make their timeless journey from the hills to the plains of Rome and Puglia, and from the plain back to the hills.

64Every province has remained true to its genius. Naples is still Greek, whatever the barbarians may have done. The savage type of the Bruttians is manifestly conserved in San Giovanni in Fiore. The Neapolitans are still noisy and big talkers. Naples is a city of lawyers. There have been musical contests at Naples since antiquity. The philosophical genius of Magna Graeca—does it not live again in Telesio, in Campanella, and in the unhappy Bruno?

65In the south, idealism, speculation, and the Greeks; in the north, sensualism, action, and the Celts. Carpenters, joiners, peddlers, and masons come from Novarra, Como, and Bergamo. Bergamo, home of Harlequin, is also the home of the ancient comedian Caecilius Statius.

66The same long continuity in the lands of the center, in Rome and Etruria. The cyclopean character of the walls of Volterra is no less striking in the edifices of Florence, in the massiveness of the Pitti Palace. The formal stiffness of Etruscan art reappears in Giotto and is visible still in Michelangelo. But I plan to demonstrate the sameness of Etruria down through the ages more completely elsewhere.

67When barbarous Sulla had devastated Etruria, he chose a site in the valley of the Arno, founded a city there, and named it after the mysterious name of Rome. That name, known only to patricians, who were forbidden to pronounce it, was Flora. He called the new city Florentia. Florence responded to this augury. The poet of Italy’s earliest times, the author of the Aeneid, came from the Etruscan colony of Mantua, and it is to a Tuscan, a Florentine, that we owe the poem of medieval times, the Divine Comedy. Italy is the land of traditions and of historical perpetuity. Questa provincia, said Machiavelli with his usual force and gravity, pare nata a risuscitare le cose morte.

68At the center of the peninsula, the people is equally unchanged. These men were never given to art or to learning. Most of Rome’s illustrious writers—Catullus, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Lucan and Juvenal, Cicero, Livy, Seneca, and the Plinys—and any number of others less illustrious, came to Rome from elsewhere. The same in the Middle Ages. Her theologian and her artist are two foreigners, Saint Thomas of Aquino and Raphael of Urbino. To Rome, however, belong bitter, mordant satire and tragic laughter. Lucullus and Juvenal were native Romans; Salvatore Rosa and Monti were Romans by adoption.

69The true vocation of the Roman was political action. Unable to go on acting, he falls to dreaming. Consider this monumental race in its streets and on the public square: you will be struck to see how proud it is. These are the bas-reliefs of Trajan’s column, come down to earth and walking among us. Not for anything on earth would a Roman do servile labor. Men must come from the Abruzzi to bring in the harvest and mend the roads, from Bergamo to carry loads. His wife would disdain to darn her cloak; that requires a Jew. Rome’s sole export is earth itself, rags, and antiquities.

70As in the time when Juvenal shows us the praetor and the tribune collecting the sportula from door to door, the Roman of today begs nobly. His staple food is still pork. Butchers and sausage makers are almost the only shops in Rome. Sensual and cruel always, the Roman now contents himself with bullfights, for want of gladiators. Accuse him of ferocity, if you will, but not of weakness: his knife would answer for him. He is never without his knife. A knife thrust is a frequent, natural gesture in Rome. And one should see with what furious joy he fires his race horse on. His Carnival cry is bloody and leveling: Death to my lord abbot, death to the beautiful princess! he cries as loudly as he ever cried, “The Christians to the lions.” Undeniably, the air of that city carries a whiff of something stormy, frenzied, and immoral. In the midst of the most stunning contrasts, among the monuments of every age—Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, Roman—at the meeting place of all the races of the world, you hear every language but Italian; there are more foreigners than Romans, and kings among the crowd. One’s head spins, vertigo sets in; I am not surprised that so many emperors, seeing all this whirling at their feet, went mad.

71A more melancholy similarity between ancient times and modern is the emptiness of the environs of Rome and of the Italian countryside in general. Whatever the agricultural genius of the ancient Latins, one sees that from the time of the Republic a part of the countryside was left in meadowland (prata Mucia, Quintia, etc.). Cato recommends pasturage as the best use of land. That counsel was followed: it gave landlords dispensation not to live on their holdings or hire the poor; a handful of slaves was all they needed. Thus Rome went the way of England under Henry VIII, when it was said that the sheep had eaten the people. The desolation spread. Caesar already was charged with draining the Pontine Marshes. Strabo, Pliny, and Tacitus all complain of mala aria. And Lucan could say without exaggeration: Urbs nos una capit.

72That note condemns Italy. The desert around Rome, as isolated on dry land as is Venice surrounded by water, presents the sorry symbol of the harm done by that city life (urbanitas) to which the Italian genius is given. In the Etruscan cities of antiquity and in the Guelph cities of the Middle Ages, Italy has twice seen industry emerge and cities come to dominate the countryside. And twice destructive industry—war—has risen against productive industry, devoured the countryside and emptied out the towns; war as wager and way of life; war feeding on itself: Rome in ancient times, the condottieri of the Middle Ages.

73Poor Italy has changed little, and this is her undoing. She has constantly been subjected to the two-fold fatality of her climate and of a narrow, concentrating social system. That system has dried up and eaten out the heart of Italy (Italum robur), by which I mean Rome and ancient Samnium. From the time of Honorius, even the smiling Campagna had been abandoned and left uncultivated. It seemed for a time that the Germanic tribes, enemies of cities, would restore importance to the countrysides they divided among themselves. It was not to be. The men of the North melted like snow on this sunbaked ground. The Italian cities absorbed the Goths in less than a century. The Lombards, the most energetic race of Germany, did not hold out two hundred years. To judge by the looks of the people and by the language, the influence of the Germanic invasions was wholly superficial. The barbarians often believed they had conquered Italy; but they managed to introduce few Teutonic words into that indomitable idiom. In vain the German, or Ghibelline, party organized itself into feudal forms, erected castles on the hilltops, and armed the countrysides against the cities. The castles were destroyed, the countrysides absorbed by the towns, the towns isolated by depopulation of the countryside and leveled socially by the radicalism of the Roman church, of the Guelph faction, and of tyrants. With the Ghibelline aristocracy, they lost all military spirit, and the land found itself delivered over to foreigners. Since that time Italy’s center of gravity, laid in Magna Graeca in the South during antiquity, has been shifted northward and lies today in Romagna, the Milanese, and Piedmont, the Celtic parts of Italy. It suffices to say that Italy now has little hope of originality and that she will look to France for a long time yet.

74Thus fatality pursues us even into Europe, which liberty had seemed to reserve for itself. We have found it in tribal life and in city life, in Germany and in Italy. There as here, moral liberty is obstructed, blocked by local influences of race and climate. Equally, man here carries the mark of fatality in his aspect. The land is reflected in him, one would say as in a mirror. Germany entire is in the face of the German: pale blue eyes, like uncertain skies; fair hair or fawn, like the hind of the Odenwald. Even the passing years are not always adequate to mark his looks: from earliest youth into full maturity you will often observe the soft and undefined beauty of childhood. Thus man blends with the nature that surrounds him. The Italian seems more detached from it. His dark eyes and lively movements bespeak a strong personality, though that ardent eye wanders and falls to dreaming. His gaze is sometimes so mobile that it frightens; his hair, as black as the wines of the South, his deeply tanned complexion, point to the son of the vine and the sun and plunge him back into the fatality from which he had seemed set free.

75These powerful local influences, which make a man one with his land, by attaching at least his heart and soul to his hillside, to his native valley, keep him in a state of isolation, of dispersion, and of mutual hostility. The ancient opposition of Saxony and the Empire stubbornly persists down through the ages. Each of the two halves, even, is less than homogeneous. The Hessian hates the Franconian; the Franconian, the Bavarian; the Bavarian, the Austrian. The Greek of Calabria and the Celt of Milan are no more removed from one another than are the son of rugged Samnium and the son of gentle Etruria. This diversity of provinces and towns expresses itself in mutual derision, in the creation of local comedy, in the opposition of Bergamesque Harlequin and Neapolitan Pulcinella, of Saxon Eulenspiegel and Austrian Hanswurst.

76In such countries there will be a juxtaposition of diverse races, but never an intimate fusion. The crossing of races, the mixing of opposed civilizations is, however, liberty’s most potent aid. The diverse fatalities that they bring to this mix cancel and neutralize each other. In Asia, especially before Islam, the races, isolated into tribes in diverse countrysides and ranked in hierarchies of caste in any given countryside, represent distinct ideas, hardly communicate, and keep to themselves. As we move westward, races and ideas, everything combines and becomes more complicated. The mix, imperfect in Italy and Germany, uneven in Spain and England, is even and perfect in France. That which is least simple, least natural, most artificial—which is to say, least fatal, most human, and most free in the world—is Europe; and that which is most European, is my homeland, is France.

77Germany has no center; Italy has one no longer. France has a center; unified and the same for many centuries, she may be considered a living, breathing person. The sign and warrant of a living organism, the power to assimilate, is present here in the highest degree: French France has understood how to attract, absorb, and make one all the Frances that surrounded her: English, German, Spanish France. She has neutralized one by means of another and converted all into her substance. She has moderated Brittany with Normandy, the Franche-Comté with Burgundy, Guyenne and Gascony with Languedoc, Provence with Dauphiné. She has made the North more southerly, the South more northerly; to the South she has brought the chivalric genius of Normandy and Lorraine, to the North, the Roman form of Toulousian municipality, the Greek industrialism of Marseille.

78The France that is French, the center of the monarchy, the basin of the Seine and of the Loire, is a remarkably flat land, pale and nondescript. When you drop down from the sublime peaks of the Alps, the harsh valleys of the Jura, the vine-covered slopes of Burgundy onto the monotone landscapes of Champagne and the Île de France, amid those muddy, meandering rivers, those towns of lime and timber, your spirits are seized by tedium and distaste. You will see plenty of rich countrysides, thriving farms and fine cattle. But that prosaic picture of ease and well-being would make you long for impoverished Switzerland and even for the desolation of the Roman campagna. As for the people, do not expect the quick retort of Gascony nor Provençal grace nor the sly, all-conquering prickliness of Normandy, even less the persistence of the Auvergnat and the obstinacy of the Breton. With due allowance for scale, our remote provinces are like Italy and southern Germany, like all lands broken up by mountains and steep valleys: the more isolated man, lacking the powerful support of division of labor and communication of ideas, is often more ingenious and more original, but also less practiced at comparing, less cultivated, less humanized, less social. The man of central France amounts to less as an individual, but there the mass of men is worth more. His particular genius lies precisely in what foreigners, even provincials call insignificance and indifference and what one should rather call a universal aptitude, capacity, and receptivity. It is the character of the center of France to present none of the originalities of the provinces, to participate in all and remain neutral, to borrow from each everything that does not exclude the others, to form the connection, the intermediary among all, to the point where each provincial quality can readily recognize in the intermediary its kinship with the rest. This is the superiority of central France over the provinces, of all France over Europe.

79This intimate fusion of races is the very identity of our nation, its personality. Let us ask what composes the particular genius of this multiple unity, of this gigantic person composed of thirty million men.

80This genius is action, and that is why the world belongs to it. This is a people composed of men of war and men of affairs, which amounts in many respects to the same thing. In the war of juridical subtleties, one has to say, we take first place, whether we should boast of it or not; the public prosecutor is a born Frenchman. Before legists entered affairs, theology and scholasticism were the means of access. Paris was then the capital of dialectics for Europe. Its University, truly universal, was divided into nations. The pick of excellence throughout the world came to exercise itself in this gymnastics. Around the chair of Duns Scotus stood Dante and Ramon Lull, an Italian and a Spaniard. From the teachings of a single professor there went forth two popes and fifty bishops. Here, as much as in the crusades or the English Wars, the nation’s genius for battle flashed. Frightful mêlées of syllogisms were fought on the front lines of the two enemy camps—the Île and the Mount, the Parvis and Sainte-Geneviève, church and town, authority and liberty. From there knights errant of dialectics went out on expedition, like the terrible Abailard who unhorsed Guillaume de Champeaux and Anselm de Laon and threw down the glove at the Church in defying Saint Bernard.

81A taste for war and action, a swift sword, argument and sophistry ever at the ready—these are the common characteristics of the Celtic peoples. Hibernian valor and dialectic are no less celebrated than those of France. What is peculiarly French, what France has beyond all other peoples, is a social genius, with three characteristics in apparent contradiction: an easy acceptance of foreign ideas, an ardent proselytism that leads her to spread her ideas abroad, and a capacity for organization that sums up and codifies one and the other.

82We know that France made herself Italian in the sixteenth century and English at the end of the eighteenth. Conversely, in the seventeenth century and in our own, she made other nations French. Action, reaction; absorption, resorption: the alternating motion of the true organism. But what is the nature of the action of France? This is what needs to be explained. The pretext of our wars is love of conquest, and in this we, too, are deceived. For proselytism is the more ardent motive. The Frenchman wants most of all to imprint his personality on the vanquished, not as his own, but as the type of the beautiful and the good; such is his simple conviction. He really believes that he can do nothing more useful for the world than to give it his ideas, his customs, and his fashions. He will convert other peoples to these things sword in hand, and after battle he will show them, half in vanity, half in sympathy, all that they stand to gain by becoming French. Do not laugh: one who tries steadfastly to make the world in his own image will succeed in the end. The English see only simplemindedness in these wars without conquest, in these efforts without material result. They do not understand that we fail at the petty end of an immediate interest only in order to attain a higher, grander one. The universal assimilation that France is moving toward is not at all the one dreamed of by England and Rome in their egotistical and materialist politics. It is, rather, an assimilation of minds, a conquering of wills: who to date has succeeded better here than we have done? Every one of our armies, withdrawing, has left behind a France. Our language reigns supreme in Europe; our literature invaded England under Charles II, Italy and Germany in the last century; today it is our laws, our liberty, strong and pure, that we are about to impart to the world. This is the way of France, in her ardent proselytism, in her appealing instinct for intellectual fecundation.

83France eagerly imports, exports new ideas and with marvelous capacity melds one with the other in her crucible. She is the legislative people of modern times, as Rome was the legislative people of antiquity. Just as Rome received into her bosom the opposed legal systems of two different races, the Etruscan and the Latin, France in her ancient legislation was Germanic to the Loire and Roman south of that river. The French Revolution married the two elements in our Code Civil.

84France acts and reasons, decrees and does battle; she shakes the world, makes history and recounts it. History is the recounting of action. Nowhere else will you find memoirs, individual histories, not in England, nor in Germany, nor in Italy. There are few exceptions. In medieval Italy, the life of a man was the life of the city. English hauteur is such that no personality will condescend to render an account of itself. The modest nature of the German does not permit him to attach that much importance to what he has been able to do. Read the hasty notes dictated by Goetz of the Iron Hand: how he admits his misadventures. Germany is more fit for epic than for history; she reserves glory for her ancient heroes and happily disdains the present. For France the present is everything. She seizes upon it with an alacrity all her own. As soon as someone has done something, seen something—quick—he writes it down. Often he exaggerates. One should see what-all our men do in the ancient chronicles. The French have long been accused of bragging. But in justice one must say that this spirit of exaggeration is often disinterested. It comes from a habitual desire to create an effect; in other words, it is the result of an oratorical, rhetorical genius, which is both a strength and a weakness of our national character.

85Let us admit it: the literature of France is eloquence and rhetoric, just as her art is fashion—both equally intent on adorning, on exaggerating the personality. Rhetoric and eloquence, of which rhetoric is by turns the art and the abuse, speak to be heard by others; poetry, to be heard by itself. Eloquence can come to life only in society, in liberty. Nature weighs upon the poet. Poetry is the fatal echo of this, the sound made by a humanity struck by nature. Eloquence is the free voice of a man trying to bring the free will of his fellow man to common cognizance. This people is therefore, among all others, the people of rhetors and of prose writers.

86France is the land of prose. What do all the prosaists of the world amount to beside Bossuet, Pascal, Montesquieu, and Voltaire? Now, when one says prose, one is speaking of the least figurative form, the least concrete, the most abstract, the most pure, the most transparent. Expressed differently, the least material, the most free, the most common to all men, the most human. Prose is the ultimate form of thought, is what is most removed from vague and inactive reverie, what is closest to action. The passage from mute symbolism to poetry and from poetry to prose is a progression toward an equality of enlightenment; it is a process of intellectual leveling. Thus from the mysterious hierarchy of eastern caste heroic aristocracy emerges; and from heroic aristocracy, modern democracy. Nowhere can the democratic genius of our nation be better seen than in its eminently prosaic character, and this is how she is destined to raise all thinking beings to a level of equality.

87The democratic genius of France is no recent thing. It is visible—confused and obscure but no less real—from the earliest origins of our history. It grew for a long time, sheltered by and even taking the form of religious power. Before the Romans, before Caesar, I see the Gallic priest, the rival of the clan chieftains, arise, not by right of birth and flesh, but through initiation, that is to say, through the spirit, equality. The Druids, coming from the people, ally themselves with the people of the towns, against the aristocracy. After the barbarian invasions, after the introduction of feudalism, the Roman, the vanquished—which is to say, the people—is represented by the priest, who is elected from the people: a man of the spirit, against the man of landholding and of force. The latter, rooted, localized within his fief and for this very reason scattered about the territory, tends toward isolation, toward barbarism. The priest, like the serf, the class to which he often belongs, looks to central power, which is royal. Abstract, divine right of the king and of the priest; concrete, human right of the baron embedded in his land. The close association of the first two is characteristic of the most popular kings of each of the three races: good king Dagobert, Louis le Bon or le Débonnaire, good king Robert, and finally Saint Louis. The type of the king of France is the saint. The priest and, no less, the king favor the freeing of the serfs; every man who escapes the local servitude of the soil belongs to them, to central power, abstract and of the spirit. Priests and kings then contrive to free entire towns, to create communes and to gather there an anti-feudal army. Now the people, which until then reached liberty only in the person of the priest, appears for the first time in its own proper form.

88But priest and monarch soon rued having roused the turbulent freedom of the communes, a freedom that was turning against them. The kings put a stop to the rapid emigration of laborers, who were fleeing the land to take refuge behind the walls of the towns. In so doing, they delayed the fall of feudalism. Feudalism would have to perish, but by their hand and, first and foremost, for their sake, that is to say, to the benefit of central power. At the same time that the local privileges of the communes are collapsing, toward the time of the reign of Philip the Fair, the Estates General are established. The priest, still coming from the people, but gradually separated from it by the interest of the group, presides as minister at the king’s side, and for five centuries, from Suger to Fleury, he and the legist rule alternately.

89If the priest had remained of the people, he would have ruled alone and in his own name; the feudal state would have given way to sacerdotal demagogy. If the freedom of the towns had prevailed, if the communes had persisted, France, carpeted with republics, would never have become a nation. She would have known what Italy experienced: the towns would have absorbed the countrysides, deserted by their inhabitants.

90Thanks to the slow extinction of feudalism, France remained strong in her countrysides, like Germany; strong in her towns, like Italy; alive and fecund like the tribe; harmonious and at one like the city. A central power, marvelously potent, was formed there by the alliance of the abstract law of king and priest against the concrete, local law of the barons. The name of the priest and of the king, the representatives of what was most general, that is to say, what was divine in the idea of nation, gave the obscure law of the people a mystical caul, as it were, in which it grew and became stronger. And one fine day, finding itself big and strong, it threw off the swaddlings of infancy. The divine right of king and priest existed only on condition that it express the divine thought, that is to say, the general idea of the people.

91In the sacerdotal and monarchic form that it had borne for so long, one could see that the people, whom king and priest had organized against the nobles, nonetheless preserved an instinct independent of one and the other. As adversary to the head of feudalism, that is, to the Emperor, France elevates and stands by the pontiff of Rome, until she can take him off to Avignon and confiscate the pontificate. There was a saying in Provence in the twelfth century: I would rather be a priest than do such and such. The same spirit of freedom in politics is present in the forms that absolute monarchy takes. The historical ideal and the habitual boast of the nation was to be the realm of the Franks. Early on, the king of France is presented as a citizen king; one need only read Commines and Machiavelli. His parliaments resist him; he himself orders that one disobey him on pain of disobedience. An admirable contradiction! The monarchy here is the national arm against the aristocracy, the short route to leveling. As long as the aristocracy remains powerful, every attempt upon the monarchy will fail—however much Marcel may stir up the communes and the Jacquerie raise the countrysides. Privileged liberties must perish under centralizing power, which must reduce everything to dust to make everything equal.

92This long leveling of France by monarchical action is what separates our homeland so profoundly from England, with which it does not cease to be compared. England explains France, but by opposition.

93Human pride made flesh in a people—this is England. I have already noted the enthusiasm that the man of the North inspires in himself, above all in the unbridled life of coursing and adventure led by the ancient Scandinavians. What will this not amount to when these barbarians betake themselves to that mighty isle, where they will batten on the fat of the land and the gifts of ocean? Rulers of the sea, of a world without law and without limit, bringing together the savage toughness of the Danish pirate, the feudal arrogance of the lordly son of the Normans… How many Tyres must one heap upon Carthages to reach the height of insolence of titanic England?

94As penance, this world of arrogance labors under its own contradictions. Composed of two antagonistic principles, industry and feudalism, the egoism of isolation and the egoism of assimilation, it agrees on one point: the acquisition and enjoyment of riches. It has been given gold like sand. Let it satisfy its thirst, let it get drunk if it can. But no, it wants to enjoy and know that it enjoys; it pulls back into the narrow prudence of the comfortable. But there in the midst of the material world it holds and relishes, disgust sets in soon enough. Then all is lost: the universe had been reduced to man, man in the enjoyment of real things, and reality is what he lacks. Now it is not tears, not effeminate cries, that are raised, but blasphemies, ragings against heaven. Liberty without God, impious heroism, in literature the Satanic school, announced as long ago as Greece, in Aischylos’s Prometheus, renewed in Hamlet’s bitter doubts, finds its ideal form in Milton’s Satan. It cries, with him: Evil, be thou my good! But it falls back, with Byron, into despair: Bottomless perdition [in English in the text—tr.].

95England’s unbending arrogance has erected an eternal obstacle to the fusion of the races and to the convergence of social stations. Excessively concentrated in a narrow space, they have not mixed the more for all that. And I am not talking about the fatal remora that is Ireland, which England can neither drag with her nor cast into the sea. Rather, on his very own island, the Gaul, in Wales, sings of the fast approaching humiliation of England with the return of Arthur and of Bonaparte. Was it so long ago that the Highlanders fought the English at Culloden? Scotland follows but does not love the mistress of the seas; she follows because it is worth her while. Finally, even within England—old England [in English in the text—tr.]are the robust son of the Saxon and the slender son of the Norman not still today distinct? If you do not find the former roaming the woods with Robin Hood, bow in hand, you will find him breaking the machines at Manchester or cut down by the Yeomanry [in English in the text—tr.].

96Undeniably, English heroism was to usher in modern liberty. In every land it is initially by the hand of the aristocracy, by heroism, by the exaltation of the human sense of self that man liberates himself from authority. The iconoclastic warrior aristocracies of Persia and of Rome look like a veritable Protestantism after India and Etruria. Thus there comes into this world what the priest calls the spirit of evil, Satan, Ahriman, the critical, negative principle, the one who always says, No. Once the warrior aristocracy, in the pride of its force, has begun the revolt of humankind, that work is carried forward by the pride of individual reason, by the spirit of dialectic. That spirit spreads quickly from the aristocracy down to the masses; it is the common property of all. But nowhere does it take on more power than in the countries already leveled by the priest and the monarchy.

  • 6 Is it necessary to specify that we are speaking of equality of rights, or rather equality of the m (...)

97Thus was revealed at the outer limit of the West a mystery still unknown to the world: heroism is not yet liberty. The heroic people of Europe is England, the free people is France. In England we see the triumph of the old barbarian heroism, the aristocracy, liberty by privilege, all dominated by the Germanic, feudal element. Liberty without equality, unjust, impious liberty is nothing other than unsociableness in society itself. France wants liberty in equality,6 which is precisely the social genius. The liberty of France is just and sacred. It deserves to be the beginning of the liberty of the world and to bring all peoples together for the first time in a true unity of intelligence and will.

98Equality in liberty, the ideal that we are to approach ever more closely without ever reaching it, was to be attained most nearly by the most mixed of peoples, by one in which the opposed fatalities of race and climate are best neutralized one by the other; a people made for action but not for conquest, a people that desires equality for itself and for humankind. This people had to have at the same time a genius for breaking up and for centralizing. The substitution of departments for provinces will explain what I mean. The French Revolution, seemingly materialist in dividing the country into departments named after rivers, nonetheless thereby erased the nationalities of the provinces, which until then had perpetuated local fatalities in the name of liberty.

99That apparently contradictory genius for breaking up and for centralizing must have reproduced itself in our language, making it eminently suited to analyzing and summing up ideas. This double capacity is the Aristotelian genius, which reduces fatal natural aggregates to dust and recovers from this dust artificial aggregates that form little by little the patrimony of human reason—a rightful patrimony that liberty has earned by the sweat of its brow.

100Nonetheless, let us admit it: the people, the century when the aristocracy and the priesthood fall at the same time, when the old order of fatality bogs down and falls apart in a swirl of dust—that people and that moment are certainly no thing of beauty. The most mixed of peoples, at a moment when everything is becoming mixed, is not made to please at first glance.

101France is not a race, like Germany; it is a nation. Its origin is mixture; action is its life. Wholly caught up by the present, by the real, its character is commonplace, prosaic. The individual derives his glory from his voluntary participation in the whole; he, too, can say: My name is legion. Are you going to look for the overbearing personality of the Englishman here, or the calm, the purity, the chaste reserve of Germany? You might as well demand the greensward of May of a dusty road where the crowd has been passing all day long.

102Mixture, action, knowing how to get things done: these things, it must be said, hardly rhyme with the idea of innocence and individual dignity. This free, rational genius whose mission is struggle appears in the unappealing forms of war, industry, criticism and dialectics. A mocking smile, the most terrible of negations, does not make for a pretty mouth. We are much in need of physiognomy if we are not to be an ugly people. What could be more grimacing than our first look at the medieval world? Rabelais’s Gargantua makes one shudder beside the noble irony of Cervantes and the graceful banter of Ariosto.

103For all that, I am not sure that any people involved in life, engaged in action as much as France would have kept its purity better. Consider, on the contrary, how the unmixed races eagerly drink up corruption. Machiavellism, more rare in Germany, often reaches an excess there from which our good sense at least preserves us. It is our special privilege to enter into vice without ruining ourselves, without our senses becoming depraved, without our courage flagging, without becoming entirely degraded. For what pleases us most in the pleasure of evil is taking action, abusing liberty to prove to ourselves that we are free. Thus nothing is lost; our good sense brings us back to the idea of order.

104Our particular virtue is not innocence, is not ignorance of evil, childhood’s state of grace, virtue without morality; it is experience, it is knowledge, the earnest mother of liberty. Good derived thus from experience is strong and durable; it comes not from blind sympathy, but from the idea of order. It emerges from uncertain, shifting sensibility to enter the domain of immutable reason.

105Much will be forgiven this people on account of its noble social instinct. It concerns itself with the liberty of the world; it worries about the most distant misfortune. All humanity vibrates in this people. This lively sympathy is its glory and its beauty. Do not consider the individual separately; contemplate him among the mass of men and above all in action. At a ball or in battle, no one is more galvanized by the feeling of community, which determines the true character of a man. Noble deeds, sublime expressions come to him naturally; he utters words he did not know before. The divine genius of society loosens his tongue. Above all, in a moment of danger, when festivities are lit by a July sun, when fire is met by fire, when lead shot and death spray and ricochet, then stupidity becomes eloquent, cowardice becomes brave; that living dust detaches itself, sparkles, and becomes marvelously beautiful. A fiery poetry goes out from the mass and rolls, with the knell of the tocsin and the echo of the fusillades, from the Pantheon to the Louvre, from the Louvre to the Pont de la Grève. De la Grève? No. To the Pont d’Arcole. And may this word be heard in Italy!

106It is the great singularity of the July Revolution to be the original model of a revolution without heroes, without proper names; no individual in whom the glory might have lodged. Society did it all. The revolution of the fourteenth century expiated and epitomized itself in the Maid of Orleans, a pure and touching victim who represented the people and died for it. But here, not one proper name: no one prepared, no one led, no one eclipsed the others. After the victory, one went in search of the hero—and found an entire people.

107That marvelous unity had never before been seen on earth. Fifty thousand men had agreed to die for an idea. These were but the braves; countless others fought in spirit; the sudden raising of the tricolore all over France expressed the unanimity of many millions. There was no disorder in this impetuous exultation. They reached agreement without deliberation. The idea of order rose above the action and the tumult. In the momentary absence of a government, of a visible leader, the invisible sovereign of the world appeared: law and justice. In the midst of such confusion, not one murder; not one theft was committed in the course of those three days. In another age, one would have seen in this a miracle; today we simply see the work of human liberty. But what is more divine than order in liberty?

108This unique moment, returning to me again and again in memory, keeps up my hope and gives me faith in the moral and religious destiny of my country. Amid the universal unrest that surrounds us, I believe in a peaceful future. For in the end, this people became one for a day in a single common thought; its eyes have seen the glory of the divine idea of order. We have not glimpsed this flash of heavenly light in vain.

109Let us have hope and confidence, whatever agitation still fills the beautiful and terrible epoch in which our lives have fallen. It is the peripeteia of a tragedy where the victim is an entire world. An epoch of destruction, of dissolution, of decomposition, of analysis and critique. In philosophy it is by logical analysis, in the social order by that other analysis, by war and revolution, that man passes from one system to another, that he casts off one form to take on another which always gives more to the spirit. But not without cruel effort, not without a painful wrench can he tear himself loose from the fatality at whose breast he has hung so long suspended; the separation still bleeds in the grown man’s heart. But it must be: the child must quit its mother, it must walk by itself, it must move forward. Forward, then, child of providence; forward; do not stop. It is God’s will! It is God’s will! was the cry of the crusades.

110This last step away from natural, fatal order, away from the God of the East, is a step toward the social God who is to reveal himself little by little in our very liberty. But if there is a moment when the former effaces himself and disappears and the other is slow to appear, a moment when men believe they see, like Werner, Christ weeping on the altar and himself admitting that there is no God, into what agony of despair will our orphaned world not fall? Ask the unhappy Byron.

111How shall we mount from the depths of this abyss toward God?

112Humanity, as we have said, moves eternally from decomposition to composition, from analysis to synthesis. In analysis, all relations vanish, all bonds are broken, social and divine unity becomes imperceptible. But gradually relations reappear in knowledge and in society, unity returns to the city and to nature. This world, once reduced to dust, reconstitutes itself and blossoms again in a new creation in which man recognizes, now more beautiful and more pure, the image of the divine order. Knowledge today is in the analytic phase, at the point of minute observation of detail; only thus can its great task begin. Society is reaching the end of an ugly, dirty work of demolition: it is clearing the ground of the debris of a world of fatality that has crumbled. We find the labor long, no doubt. We have been at it for nearly forty years, more than the life of a man, alas. But this is little in the life of a nation. Let us therefore comfort ourselves and take courage; order will return sooner or later, at the least, over our graves.

113When unity, and this time unity freely chosen, has reappeared in the social world, and knowledge, by observation of detail, has acquired a legitimate foundation on which to erect its majestic, harmonious edifice, humanity will recognize the accord of a double world, natural and civil, in the benevolent intelligence that has connected the two. But it is primarily by its social sense that humanity will return to the idea of universal order. Once this order has been felt in the limited society of one’s own country, the same idea will spread to human society, to the republic of the world.

114The Athenian said: Hail, city of Cecrops! And you, will you not say: Hail, city of Providence!

115Christianity constructed the moral man. In the concept of equality before God it set up a principle that was later to find fruitful application in the secular world. However, the circumstances that attended its earliest emergence made it less favorable to shared action, to social life than to inactive, solitary contemplation. At its emergence, God was still held captive in materialism and pagan sensuality; man was imprisoned within the narrow confines of the ancient city. Christianity delivered man by breaking the city, freed God by breaking the idols. At this unique moment, man first caught sight of his heavenly home, languished in incurable love for it, folded his arms and, raising his eyes to heaven, awaited the moment of his ascension. How long, O Lord, how long? Impatient, idle laborer, you who sit down and claim your wage before the evening, you ask for heaven, but what have you made of the earth that the Lord has given you? To subdue matter, is it enough to break idols, to fast and flee into the desert? You must fight and not flee, and look enemy nature in the eye, know her, use your arts to subjugate her, use her to despise her. You broke up the city of antiquity, a narrow, grudging city that rejected humanity and, emerging from the ruins of that Babel, you spread out over the world. There you are now, divided into kingdoms, into monarchies, speaking twenty different tongues. What about the universal and divine city of which Christian charity gave you a presentiment and which you promised to realize here on earth?

116If a social sense is to lead us back to religion, then the organ of that new revelation, the interpreter between God and man, should be the most social of all peoples. The moral world received its Word in Christianity, the child of Judea and of Greece; France will explain the Word of the social world that we now see beginning.

117It is at the points of contact between the races, in the collision of their opposed fatalities, in the sudden explosion of intelligence and of liberty that the celestial spark leaps from humanity, the spark that one calls logos, the Word, revelation. Thus when Judea had caught sight of Egypt, Chaldea, and Phoenicia, at the point of the most perfect mixing of the eastern races, the lightning flashed over Sinai and left behind pure, holy unity. When Jewish unity had been fertilized by the genius of Persia and of Greek Egypt, that unity blossomed, opened to embrace all the world in the equality of divine charity. Greece μυθοτόκος, mother of myth and of the word, explicated the Good News; it required nothing less than the marvelous analytic power of the language of Aristotle to pronounce to the nations the logos of the mute East.

118At the point of the most perfect mix of the European races, the social word rings out in the form of equality in liberty. Its revelation is successive; its beauty is of no one time or place. This word was not able to produce the ravishing harmony in which the moral word rang out at its birth: the relation between God and man was simple then. The relation of humanity to itself in a divine society, that translation of heaven to earth, is a complex problem whose long solution may last the lifetime of the world; its beauty is in its unfolding, its infinite unfolding.

119It belongs to France both to make that new revelation burst upon the world and to explicate it. Every solution, social or intellectual, remains unproductive for Europe until France has interpreted it, translated it, made it available to the people. The reform of the Saxon Luther, which returned the North to its natural opposition against Rome, was democratized by the genius of Calvin. The Catholic reaction of the century of Louis XIV was proclaimed to the world in the exalted dogmatism of Bossuet. The sensism of Locke became European only by way of Voltaire, and of Montesquieu who subjected the development of society to the influence of climate. Moral liberty staked its claim in the name of sentiment in Rousseau, of idea in Kant; but only the influence of the Frenchman reached all Europe.

120Thus every solitary thought of the nations is revealed by France. She speaks the Word of Europe as Greece spoke the Word of Asia. What makes her deserving of this mission? It is that the feeling of social generality, both in theory and in practice, develops more quickly in her than in any other people.

121As that feeling comes to dawn among other peoples, they become sympathetic toward the French genius, they become France; they confer on her, by their silent imitation at least, the pontificate of the new civilization. What is most young, most fecund in the world is not America, a serious child who will copy others for a long time yet; it is age-old France, made new by the spirit. While civilization locks up the barbarian world in the invincible claws of England and of Russia, France will stir Europe to its depths. Her closest union will no doubt be with the peoples of Latin languages, with Italy and Spain, those two islands that can reach an understanding with the modern world only through the intermediary of France. Then our southern provinces will regain the importance they have lost.

122Spain will resist for a long time. The deep monachal demagogy that governs her closes her to the moderate democracy of France. Her monks come from the populace, which they feed. If however this people, reassured on its French side, regains its spirit of adventure, then through it western civilization will reach Africa, already so well leveled by the religion of Mohammed.

123Italy, Celtic by race in the provinces of her North, prepared for democracy by the anti-feudal genius of the Church and of the Guelph faction, belongs in her heart to France, which asks no more of her just now. These two countries are sisters; the same practical genius; Salerno and Montpellier, Bourges and Bologna: did they not have a common spirit? Political economy, born in France, resounded in Italy. There is a double echo in the Alps. The fraternity of the two countries will strengthen the social sense of Italy and will make up for what she will always lack in material and political unity. France, head of this great family, will restore to the Latin genius something of the material preponderance that it enjoyed in antiquity, of the spiritual supremacy that it attained in the Middle Ages. In recent times the family treaty that united France, Italy, and Spain in a fraternal alliance has been an empty image of the future union that must bring them together in a community of will and idea. The true embodiment of the future union of Italy and France is Bonaparte. In like fashion Charlemagne was the material figure of the spiritual unity of the feudal and pontifical world that was in the making. Great revolutions are preceded by their prophetic symbols.

124Whoever wishes to know the destiny of humankind should plumb the genius of Italy and of France. Rome was the crux of the immense drama whose peripeteia France directs. By placing ourselves on the summit of the Capitoline, we shall embrace with the double regard of Janus both the ancient world that ends here and the modern world, which our native land will lead henceforth down the mysterious road of the future.


2 This was written in January 1830. I have not had the heart to remove it. [Footnotes are Michelet’s unless otherwise indicated]

3 Michelet translates the passage from Childe Harold rather freely into French. It appears more fully, in the original English, in the Notes and Clarifications. [Tr.]

4 The ideas about the character of the Franks that follow here have been modified slightly by the author in his other works. He also found it desirable to explain the theory on Satan expounded below.

5 A considerable number of Italians were among the foreigners who fought for the freedom of France in the July days of 1830. The names of only a few have been recorded: “M. Giannone (the author of L’Esule) invariably showed up at the most dangerous spots; M. Bonnizzi was wounded in the left arm; M. Libri began the first day wielding a stick; on the second he seized a gun from a soldier; and on the third, he armed himself fully by disarming a high-ranking officer; M. Libri remained on the front line of our heroes for sixty hours.” (See the newspaper Le Temps for 30 July until 1 August; see also the Revue française for November 1829).

6 Is it necessary to specify that we are speaking of equality of rights, or rather equality of the means of acquiring understanding and the capacity, which should accompany understanding, of exercising political rights?

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 2. Jules Michelet, circa 1842, after a drawing by Thomas Couture, reproduced in Jules Michelet, Lettres inédites (1841-1871), ed. Paul Sirven (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1924), frontispiece.
Fichier image/jpeg, 94k


Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search