A Defense Strategy

Now, “Frenchness” may seem to be an intolerably vague idea, and it smells of related notions like Volksgeist that have acquired a bad odor since ethnography became polluted with racism in the 1930s. Nonetheless, an idea may be valid even if it is vague and has been abused in the past. Frenchness exists….[I]t is a distinct cultural style; and it conveys a particular view of the world—a sense that life is hard, that you had better not have any illusions about selflessness in your fellow men, that clear-headedness and quick wit are necessary to protect what little you can extract from your surroundings, and that moral nicety will get you nowhere. Frenchness makes for ironic detachment. It tends to be negative and disabused. Unlike its Anglo-Saxon opposite, the Protestant ethic, it offers no formula for conquering the world. It is a defense strategy, well suited to an oppressed peasantry or an occupied country. […] The world is made for knaves and fools, they say: better to be a knave than a fool.

Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History.

Generally, the Romanian does not believe in people’s kindness; he does not have an idyllic and sentimental outlook on life. Sometimes, the very idea he forms about people, tainted by suspicion and mistrust, has something pessimistic about it. He sees first an enemy in the person he meets and only after he has known him well does he grant him confidence, but never completely. […] This aspect of his character can easily be explained by the century-old life of sufferings and exploitations he has felt. The soul of a permanently oppressed, lied to and disillusioned people cannot breed sentimental or idyllic humanitarianism, nor trust in people and their kindness.

Mihai D. Ralea, The Romanian Phenomenon.



This Springs from Love

As long as we are with those whom we love, and as long as the sense of security is unimpaired, we rejoice, and the remote consequences of our love are usually forgotten. Its fears and its risks are unheeded. But when the dark day approaches, and the moment of sorrow is at hand, other and yet essential parts of our affection come into play. And if, perchance, the struggle has been long and arduous; if we have been tempted to cling to hope when hope should have been abandoned, so much the more are we at the last changed and humbled. To note the slow but inevitable march of disease, to watch the enemy stealing in at the gate, to see the strength gradually waning, the limbs tottering more and more, the noble faculties dwindling by degrees, the eye paling and losing its lustre, the tongue faltering as it vainly tries to utter its words of endearment, the very lips hardly able to smile with their wonted tenderness ; — to see this, is hard indeed to bear, and many of the strongest natures have sunk under it. But when even this is gone ; when the very signs of life are mute ; when the last faint tie is severed, and there lies before us nought save the shell and husk of what we loved too well, then truly, if we believed the separation were final, how could we stand up and live? We have staked our all upon a single cast, and lost the stake. There, where we have garnered up our hearts, and where our treasure is, thieves break in and spoil. Methinks, that in that moment of desolation, the best of us would succumb, but for the deep conviction that all is not really over ; that we have as yet only seen a part ; and that something remains behind. Something behind ; something which the eye of reason cannot discern, but on which the eye of affection is fixed. “What is that, which, passing over us like a shadow, strains the aching vision as we gaze at it? Whence comes that sense of mysterious companionship in the midst of solitude ; that ineffable feeling which cheers the afflicted ? Why is it that, at these times, our minds are thrown back on themselves, and, being so thrown, have a forecast of another and a higher state ?

If this be a delusion, it is one which the affections have themselves created, and we must believe that the purest and noblest elements of our nature conspire to deceive us. So surely as we lose what we love, so surely does hope mingle with grief. That if a man stood alone, he would deem himself mortal, I can well imagine. Why not ? On account of his loneliness, his moral faculties would be undeveloped, and it is solely from them that he could learn the doctrine of immortality.

There is nothing, either in the mechanism of the material universe, or in the vast sweep and compass of science, which can teach it. The human intellect, glorious as it is, and in its own field almost omnipotent, knows it not. For, the province and function of the intellect is to take those steps, and to produce those improvements, whether speculative or practical, which accelerate the march of nations, and to which we owe the august and imposing fabric of modern civilization. But this intellectual movement which determines the condition of man, does not apply with the same force to the condition of men. What is most potent in the mass, loses its supremacy in the unit. One law for the separate elements ; another law for the entire compound. The intellectual principle is conspicuous in regard to the race ; the moral principle in regard to the individual. And of all the moral sentiments which adorn and elevate the human character, the instinct of affection is surely the most lovely, the most powerful, and the most general. Unless, therefore, we are prepared to assert that  this, the fairest and choicest of our possessions, is of so delusive and fraudulent a character, that its dictates are not to be trusted, we can hardly avoid the conclusion, that, inasmuch as they are the same in all ages, with all degrees of knowledge, and with all varieties of religion, they bear upon their surface the impress of truth, and are at once the conditions and consequence of our being.

It is, then, to that sense of immortality with which the affections inspire us, that I would appeal for the best proof of the reality of a future life.

 Henry Thomas Bucke, ‘Mill on Liberty’, Essays.


Perhaps there is no such thing as the concept of the immortality of the soul, but there is a feeling of the soul’s immortality, and this springs from love. Thus I rejected and “was not interested” in the immortality of the soul, because I had so little love for my mother. I pitied her – but this is something different from love, not quite the same thing . . . If I had loved her more keenly, more ardently, if I had felt more pain and fear that “she was no more,” then there would have been “immortality of the soul,” “eternal life,” “life beyond the grave.” But is this perhaps the “hypothesis of love”? Why a “hypothesis,” when I “eat bread” and shall die if I don’t “eat”? “Eating” is like “the rotation of the earth round the sun” and other cosmic phenomena. So from the great cosmological anguish at parting, brought about by death (for the anguish is cosmological), there results “we shall meet beyond the grave.” This is like “water runs,” “fire burns,” and “bread nourishes.” So the “soul does not die when the body dies, but is only torn from the body,” separated from the body. Why this must be so cannot be proved, but we are all aware of it; we all know that it is so. To the number of all these eternal “truths,” on which the world hangs together, belongs also the eternity of the “I,” of “my sorrow,” of “my joy.” This concept – or more exactly the feeling that unites all of us who are alive – is so noble, sublime, and tender that the “State Duma” or the “Lena Miners’ Strike” or the asinine “I propose that we all stand up” (at news of someone’s death) are as nothing . . . And yet this concept, this feeling, is rejected in our world: Our world does not want it, does not know it, laughs at it. Does this not mean that “our world” (with its concepts) is something so transitory, so ephemeral, and so useless even to the generations coming after us that it is terrible to think about. Women’s bustles!

“Women used to wear bustles.”

“What? What did you say?”

“I said bustles.”

“Well, what of it? We don’t see them any more.”

“That’s just the point – ‘we don’t see them.’ ”

So tomorrow we won’t see the whole of “our time,” with its parliaments, its Darwin, its strikes. And this might happen because of this trifling thing – that “our time” had no use for “the immortality of the soul . . .”

This tender idea will outlive iron laws. Rails will break apart. Engines will break down. But for men “to weep” at the mere threat of “eternal separation” – this will never break down, this will never come to an end.

O people, believe in tender ideas. Throw away iron: It is only a cobweb. True iron is tears, sighs, agony. Only what is noble is true and will never be destroyed.

Vasily Rozanov, The Apocalypse of Our Time.


On the ship to Bergen Wittgenstein wrote of Christ’s Resurrection and of what inclined even him to believe in it. If Christ did not rise from the dead, he reasoned, then he decomposed in the grave like any other man. ‘HE IS DEAD AND DECOMPOSED.’ He had to repeat an underline the thought to appreciate its awfulness. For if that were the case, then Christ was a teacher like any other, ‘and can no longer HELP; and once more we are orphaned and alone. So we have to content ourselves with wisdom and speculation.’ And if that is all we have, then: ‘We are in a sort of hell where we can do nothing but dream, roofed in, as it were, and cut off from heaven.’ If he wanted to be saved, to be redeemed, then wisdom was not enough; he needed faith:

“And faith is faith in what is needed by my HEART, my SOUL, not my speculative intelligence. For it is my soul with its passions, as it were with its flesh and blood, that has to be saved, not my abstract mind. Perhaps we can only say: Only LOVE can believe in the Resurrection. Or: it is LOVE that believes the Resurrection. We might say: Redeeming love believes even in the Resurrection; holds fast even to Resurrection …
What combats doubt is, as it were, REDEMPTION. Holding fast to THIS must be holding fast to that belief. …”

Ray Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius.