I have been reading a lot on the French Thinker Georges Sorel. I wrote a bit about him almost a year ago. He was instrumental in the development of socialist theory both for the left and the right. A year ago I was looking for information on him. I found some in one book, but the irony is I had another book in my library with more than three pages on him. I’m going to quote from that book in this post for future reference. The book is called “The Great Illusion” by Oron J. Hale copyrighted 1971 and is a history of the years from 1900-1914. I am quoting from him for educational purposes. If you want to read the rest of his book you might be able to find it at Albris Used Books


The writer writes

“Anyone assessing the significance of Georges Sorel will reflect long on whether to classify him with the abstract thinkers or the social philosophers and reformers. He was, in fact, a mixture of both, but since he was a spectator of the workers’ movement and not in any way a direct participant, he is best placed with the thinkers. He is remembered for one book — Reflections on Violence — and for his intellectual linkage with Communism and Fascism. Sorel, like Gabriel Tarde, had two distinct careers. Bourgeois in origin, and an engineer by training and profession, he resigned from state employment after twenty five years to devote his time to study and writing. His education in philosophy, the humanities, and social science was acquired almost entirely from critical reading and isolated reflection. He did not absorb and systematize the ideas of others but analyzed and reacted to all that he read. Original in his thought, he was an intellectual eccentric and very nearly a crank.”

Now why would the author say this and then talk about him?

“After he settled at Boulogne-sur-Seine in 1892 he became a familiar figure in the Bibliotheque National, the public lecture halls of the College de France, and the editorial offices of the various reviews to which he regularly contributed. His literary and mental endowments were such as to gain him the acquaintance and respect of Bergson, Croce, and Pareto, and among the younger French intellectuals, the friendship of Charles Peguy, Edourd Berth, and Robert Michels. Among his contemporaries he sought affinity with William James and Bergson; he seemed uninterested in German Philosophy and sociology, and he reacted to Durkheim and Poincare with skeptical irony.”

He goes on:

“Sorel began his writing as a marginal Marxist, a critical analyst of Marx’s economics and philosophy, and not a pious commentator. He then embraced revisionism, became for several years the metaphysician of syndicalism,” and Juares called him, flirted ardently with royalist circles, and then reverted to his commitment to the proletariat. when the Bolsheviks came to power, he completed his cycle of illusions by saluting Lenin as the leader who had realized his syndicalist myth.”

If Sorel was so smart, why didn’t he dismiss the myths of these people out of hand. Why does he lionize someone promoting a “myth?”

“The syndicalist or militant trade union movement, which burst into prominence in France around 1900, inspired Sorel to write the Reflections on Violence. The turmoil engendered by strikes was universally condemned even by parliamentary socialists, who favored negotiation and conciliation. to justify the militancy and to give syndicalism an ideology, Sorel published the series of articles that became, as one of his biographers calls it, “a famous and infamous book.” Indeed it was Sorel’s only successful book out of about a dozen published. [he cites James H. Meisel, the Genesis of Georges Sorel].”

Now he explains:

“Two of its themes have become a part of social science literature: the concept of the social myth, and the virtue of violence. To Sorel the syndicalist’s general strike, the Marxist’s catastrophic revolution, the Christian’s church militant, the legends of the French Revolution, and teh rememberence of the June Days are allmyths that move men, quite independent of their historical reality. As one of Sorel’s disciples (Mussolini) said, men do not move mountains; it is only necessary to create the illusion that mountains move. Social myths are not descriptions of things, but “expressions of a determination to act.”[quoting from Reflections page 50].

He continues:

“Myths enclose all the strongest inclinations of a peaople, of a party, or of a class, and the general strike is “the myth in which Socialism is wholly comprised.” [page 127] “For Sorel the general strike was a catastrophic conception of socialism, the essence of the class struggle, and the only true Marxist means of effecting the revolution.”

The author defends Georges Sorel next saying

“Nowhere does Sorel endorse indiscriminate brutal violence; only violence ‘enlightened by the idea of the general strike’ is unconditionally defended; only violence in the Marxist class war, as Sorel conceived it, is fine and heroic and in the service of ‘the immemorial interests of civilization.’”

Now, this philosophy can be used quite practically to justify violence, revolution any “noble” end. But the same idea of ethical relativity can just as easily be used to justify the alliance of revolutionaries (or more properly counter-revolutionaries) with moneyed cabals, hence the evolution of his disciple Mussolini from “liberal” to hard-right Fascist.

He then notes:

“In fact, there is no justification of violence by philosophical argument, but long excursions by an overloaded mind into past history and current events to demonstrate that ethical codes are relative to their time and place. Consistant with this position he could describe the Declaration of the Rights of Man as ‘only a colorless collection of abstract and confuse formulas, without any practical bearing.[page 210]”

The author then goes on to defend Nietzsche and Sorel with some weak praise. But really Sorel established the intellectual basis for both the field of marketing and the field of propaganda. There is considerable overlap as can be demonstrated by the ABC series being shown even at this moment.

For more on Georges Sorel visit:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Sorel