The Pathos of Politics (59) Georges Sorel

Georges Sorel

Love, by the enthusiasm it begets, can produce that sublimity without which there would be no effective morality. ~ Georges Sorel

In comprehending the power of myth, French political philosopher Georges Sorel (1847–1922) was a philosophic fount for the fascists that followed in his wake.

Sorel rejected science as simply a system of “fictions” fabricated to paste an idealized order on a reality that was instead inherently chaotic and irrational. Sorel saw human society as a disordered expression of irrationality. The Enlightenment coupling of technical progress with cultural progress was moral blindness; belief in human perfectibility pathetic.

Sorel rejected ideology as a glue that could bind men together. Beliefs can be shared by men who have basically nothing in common. The real ties are familial: the unchanging unit of moral life.

Borrowing from Marx, Sorel supported the idea of a political party for the working class, held together by their affinity as a social stratum. But Sorel considered Marx too deterministic. For Sorel, history was Hegelian: a drama in which men are authors and actors; above all, a struggle ripe with morality, even as events march independently of values.

Inspired by the militant trade union movement in France at the turn of the 20th century, Sorel theorized syndicalism as a replacement for capitalism: “a system of economic organization in which industries are owned and managed by the workers.”

The masses believe that they are suffering from the iniquitous consequences of a past which was full of violence, ignorance, and wickedness. They believe that democracy, if it were only free, would replace a malevolent hierarchy by a benevolent hierarchy. ~ Georges Sorel

Sorel viewed parliamentary government as the means by which middle-class bureaucrats hold power; the result of a democracy in which workers had not coalesced to power, and so had forsaken their opportunity to hold the reins.

How did these mediocre and silly people become so powerful? ~ Georges Sorel

Sorel advocated revolution as the only means for workers to take control. To galvanize revolt, Sorel suggested myth as motivation. For a worker’s party, Sorel saw a general strike – a simultaneous statement and seizing of power – as an actualizing myth.

As long as there are no myths accepted by the masses, one may go on talking of revolts indefinitely, without ever provoking any revolutionary movement. ~ Georges Sorel

Sorel saw the power that myths may have in fermenting fervor, by giving men a new vision of the world, and of themselves. Christianity was exemplary. This myth maxim was practiced by Mussolini and Hitler, in bending men’s minds to identify with the autocratic states they created.

We have created our myth. The myth is a faith, it is passion. It is not necessary that it shall be a reality. It is a reality by the fact that it is a goad, a hope, a faith, that it is courage. Our myth is the nation, our myth is the greatness of the nation! ~ Benito Mussolini

Sorel’s most famous work was Reflections On Violence (1908). Sprinkled with a few gems of insight, the treatise reveals Sorel in possession of a self-indulgent mind, rambling without cogency.

A social policy founded on middle-class cowardice, which consists in always surrendering before the threat of violence, cannot fail to engender the idea that the middle class is condemned to death, and its disappearance is only a matter of time. Thus, every conflict which gives rise to violence becomes a vanguard fight. ~ Georges Sorel

Sorel’s ideal of violence as a creative force is sociopathic. Though erudite, Sorel echoed the irrationality that he perceived pervading mankind.