June 8, 2014
THE QUINTESSENCE OF REASON:
When French Irrationality Was Deadly : The writers who fell in love with fascism : a review of The Embrace of Unreason: France, 1914-1940 by Frederick Brown (David A. Bell, New Republic)
Dancing with the devil is an old pursuit among French writers. Even such a stalwart of the Enlightenment as Diderot created a fictional character (the seductive Nephew of Rameau) who could remark, "If there is any genre in which it matters to be sublime, it is evil, above all." From Diderot through de Sade and de Maistre, Baudelaire and Huysmans, down to Michel Houellebecq and Jonathan Littell, a powerful tradition within French writing has challenged the bounds of conventional morality, loudly defied the dictates of Enlightenment reason, and expressed an abiding fascination with blood. It is as if the culture that, perhaps more strongly than any other, celebrated reason and geometrical order, also provoked within itself a deep, wild, and willfully primitive reaction, a return of the repressed par excellence.Never in French history did this cultural impulse prove more pernicious than during the troubled decades of the Third Republic (1870-1940). In this period, some of France's most talented writers gazed longingly into the abyss, and then turned the full power of their eloquence against the institutions of parliamentary democracy.
The mistake here is obvious--the French embrace of communism and fascism was rational, just as surely as was the eagerness for the Terror. It is the anti-reason Anglosphere that avoided such homicidal enthusiasms. Eschewing Reason, we don't believe society can be perfected by the exercise of Man's mind.
Posted by Orrin Judd at June 8, 2014 4:00 PM