Sunday, 21 February 2016

Bergson and the Index

Henri, how did you get yourself on the Catholic Index of forbidden books in 1914? It can’t have been for the nature of your works in themselves which up to that time were Time and Free Will, Matter and Memory and Creative Evolution. I have a feeling that it was easier to achieve that gold star of dangerous ideation if you were French Intellectual culture is taken very seriously there.* To be effective at subversion one would think that ease of understanding would be a necessary feature. If Bertrand Russell was baffled where was the problem? I think it arose due to the co-option of his thinking on intellect versus intuition and instinct by Syndicalists, Anarchists, Modernists, and Neo-Catholics.

John Alexander Gunn’s book Bergson and his Philosophy (1920) indicates one source of the revisor’s condemnation:

While social revolutionaries were endeavouring to make the most out of Bergson, many leaders of religious thought, particularly the more liberal-minded theologians of all creeds, e.g., the Modernists and Neo-Catholic Party in his own country, showed a keen interest in his writings, and many of them endeavoured to find encouragement and stimulus in his work. The Roman Catholic Church, however, which still believes that finality was reached in philosophy with the work of Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth century, and consequently makes that mediaeval philosophy her official, orthodox, and dogmatic view, took the step of banning Bergson's three books by placing them upon the Index (Decree of June 1, 1914).

Put together with Syndicalist and Anarchist thought, Bergson had cashed in a four way accumulator bet:
Both ethical and political thought to-day are deriving fresh stimulation from the revision of many formulae, the modification of many conceptions which the War has inevitably caused. At the same time the keen interest taken in studies like social psychology and political philosophy combines with a growing interest in movements such as Guild Socialism and Syndicalism. The current which in philosophy sets against intellectualism, in the political realm sets against the State. This political anti-intellectualism shows a definite tendency to belittle the State in comparison with economic or social groups. "If social psychology tends to base the State as it is, on other than intellectual grounds, Syndicalism is prone to expect that non-intellectual forces will suffice to achieve the State as it should be." [Footnote: Ernest Barker in his Political Thought in England from Herbert Spencer to the Present Day, p. 248.] Other tendencies of the same type are noticeable. For example, Mr. Bertrand Russell's work on The Principles of Social Reconstruction is based on the view that impulse is a larger factor in our social life than conscious purpose.
The Syndicalists have been citing the philosophy of Bergson in support of their views, and it is most interesting to see how skilfully at times sayings of Bergson are quoted by them as authoritative, as justification for their actions, in a spirit akin to that of the devout man who quotes scripture texts as a guide to conduct.

Note:From the 19th. century on
most of the writers on the Index were French. Amongst them are Gide, Flaubert, Dumas (both pere et fils) Sand, Balzac, Zola, Anatole France, Sartre, de Beauvoir.


skholiast said...

The reactions against Bergson have often been bewildering to me, and make me suspect I am either missing something important, or something extremely trivial. Benda seems to have nursed a career-long animus against him. Eliot was typically arch and dismissive -- he refers somewhere to an "epidemic of Bergsonisms" -- but I think this is an elitist recoil against what he considered a trendy philosophy de jour. Some seem to feel he was fomenting a sort of irrationalism. I can almost see this sometimes, but it seems to me a rather selective, not to say hypersensitive, reading of him -- not to mention a critique that can also be made of any number of other figures who are in apparently much better standing. Plato, say.

ombhurbhuva said...

Well Eliot was the arch elitist, Anglo-Catholic Royalist. At the same time he attended Bergson’s lectures in Paris at the College de France and there is discernable influence in his great poem Four Quartets.

I think the charge of irrationalism is overstated. He emphasised the contrast between the instinctual and the rational, the former being the ground out of which basic morality arose. (Two Sources) I’m in the middle of a first reading of that book but as I understand it religion is the spur to a more complete universalisable morality. Reason takes what is given and imagines it has constructed it.