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The Meaning of the War Life & Matter in Conflict   By: (1859-1941)

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First Page:

THE MEANING OF THE WAR

LIFE & MATTER IN CONFLICT

BY HENRI BERGSON

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY H. WILDON CARR

LONDON T. FISHER UNWIN LTD. ADELPHI TERRACE

English translation first published June 1915 Second impression, July 1915 Third impression, August 1915

( All rights reserved )

CONTENTS

PAGE

INTRODUCTION 9

LIFE AND MATTER AT WAR 15

THE FORCE WHICH WASTES AND THAT WHICH DOES NOT WASTE 41

INTRODUCTION

INTRODUCTION

This little volume contains the discourse delivered by M. Bergson as President of the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques at its annual public meeting on December 12, 1914. It is the address which preceded the announcement of the prizes and awards bestowed by the Academy. It is now issued in book form with the consent of the author, and his full appreciation of the object, to give it the widest circulation. Although it is brief, it is a message addressed directly to the heart of our people in the crisis of war. To it is added a short article on the same theme, contributed to the Bulletin des Armées de la République , November 4, 1914.

It has been said that war, with all its terrible evils, is the occasion of at least one good which humanity values as above price: it inspires great poetry. On the other hand, it seems to crush philosophy. Many may think that in this message it is poetry to which M. Bergson is giving expression. It is, however, from the depth of his philosophy that the inspiration is drawn. The full significance of the doctrines he has been teaching, and their whole moral and political bearing, are brought into clear light, focussed, as it were, on the actual present struggle. Yet is there no word that breathes hatred to any person or to any race. It is by the triumph of a spiritual principle that philosophy may hope to free humanity from the oppression of a materialist doctrine.

The opposing principle has had, and still has, philosophers to defend it, and they belong to no particular nation or race. One of its most brilliant and influential exponents was a Frenchman, the diplomatist, Comte Joseph Arthur de Gobineau (1816 1882). A brief word on this remarkable man may help the reader to understand the mention of his name on page 30. His Essai sur l'inégalité des races humaines (1855) was the first of a series of writings to affirm, on ethnological grounds, the superiority of the Aryan race, and its right and destiny by reason of that superiority to rule all other races as bondsmen. He was the friend of Wagner, and also of Nietzsche. Madame Förster Nietzsche in her biography of her brother has spoken of the almost reverent regard which he entertained for Gobineau, and it may be that from him Nietzsche derived the idea which he developed into his doctrine of the non morality of the superman.

Were the discourse of M. Bergson no more than the utterance of a philosopher stirred by deep patriotic feeling to uphold his country's cause and denounce his country's foes, then, however eloquent its appeal, it would have no significance or value beyond its present power to inspire courage in the hearts of his comrades. And it would not differ from equally earnest appeals which other philosophers have addressed to the world on behalf of their fellow countrymen. It has a much deeper meaning. It is no mere indictment of modern Germany's rulers or people. It goes to the very heart of the problem of the future of humanity. Shall the splendid material progress which has marked the scientific achievement of the last century be the forging of a sword to destroy the freedom which life has won with it from matter?

As these words are written the conflict is raging, and the decision seems still far off. Death is striking down the young in all the nations, and among them many on whom our highest hopes were founded... Continue reading book >>




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