Clerambault: The story of an independent spirit during the war

I am no Clerambault, but I agree with most of his declamations against war. He is no blind pacifist. But he sees war as a waste of humanity, which I think it is. There are those of you enamored by big military complexes. For me, they represents the greatest of human folly. You can argue all day, if you wish, that militaries have made some very useful and great inventions, that maybe be, but it still a monument to human folly. Arming itself so it can spread peace, democracy and whatever else they convince the common people to believe. To each their own, anyway.

I don’t think I can do the book any justice by reviewing it. It is enough for me to say that I liked it. I disagree with Romain on his reference to Africans as savages. I don’t think he could find Africa on a map. His views on women can only be excused to have belonged to that time in history.

What I can do, however, is to share some of the passages that resonated most with me. I have shared some previously.

About the Buddha,

It would not be enough for me, and I cannot content myself either with the wisdom of a selfish Buddha, who sets himself free by deserting the rest. I know the Hindoos as you do, and I love them, but even among them, Buddha has not said the last word of wisdom. Do you remember that Bodhisattva, the Master of Pity, who swore not to become Buddha, never to find freedom in Nirvana, until he had cured all pain, redeemed all crimes, consoled all sorrows?

On warring people

Why do they not see the imbecility of their conduct, in face of the gulf that swallows up each man that dies, all humanity with him? These millions of creatures who have but a moment to live, why do they persist in making it infernal by their atrocious and absurd quarrels about ideas; like wretches who cut each other’s throats for a handful of spurious coins thrown to them? We are all victims, under the same sentence, and instead of uniting, we fight among ourselves. Poor fools! On the brow of each man that passes I can see the sweat of agony; efface it by the kiss of peace!

On fate

A man’s fate is made every day by himself, and none knows what it will be; it is what we are. If you are
cast down, so also is your fate.

On the secrets of life

He who has deciphered the secret of life and found the answer, is no longer bound on the great wheel of existence, he has quitted the world of the living. When illusion vanishes, nothingness resumes its eternal reign, the bright bubble has burst in infinite space, and our poor thought is dissolved in the immutable repose of the limitless void.

On anti-natalism

Why bring children into the world, if it is to butcher them like this?

On freeing others

You cannot set others free, in spite of them, and from the outside; and even if it were possible, what good would it do? If they do not free themselves, tomorrow they will fall back into slavery. All you can do is to set a good example, and say: “There is the road, follow it and you will find Freedom”.

On life or meaningless of life

Since he who is destroyed, suffers, and he who destroys has no pleasure, and is shortly destroyed himself, tell me what no philosopher can explain; whom does it please, and to whose profit is this unfortunate life of the universe, which is only preserved by the injury or death of all the creatures which compose it?”

If you have time to spare, this books for light reading. You can add it to your reading list as recommendation from yours truly.

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In Romain Rolland’s Clerambault, our main character Clerambault is reflecting about the first world war a tribal war that engulfed Europe spreading to the rest of the world and how sentiment on both sides of the conflict changed. He talks of how what was loved from Germany by the French can no longer be appreciated or how to the French, nothing good would come from Germany.

He talks of the complicity of the intellectual community in adding flames to the war and not doing anything to prevent loss of lives, innocent lives.

He says for example

“Perrotin, I have often thought that we, men of thought, artists, all of us, we do not live up to our obligations. Not only now, but for a long time, perhaps always. We are custodians of the portion of Truth that is in us, a little light, which we have prudently kept for ourselves. More than once this has troubled me, but I shut my eyes to it then; now they have been unsealed by suffering. We are the privileged ones, and that lays duties upon us which we have not fulfilled; we are afraid of compromising ourselves. There is an aristocracy of the mind, which claims to succeed to that of blood; but it forgets that the privileges of the old order were first purchased with blood. For ages mankind has listened to words of wisdom, but it is rare to see the wise men offer themselves as a sacrifice, though it would do no harm if the world should see some of them stake their lives on their doctrines, as in the heroic days. Sacrifice is the condition of fecundity. To make others believe, you must believe first yourself, and prove it. Men do not see a truth simply because it exists, it must have the breath of life; and this spirit which is ours, we can and ought to give. If not, our thoughts are only amusements of dilettanti—a play, which deserves only a little applause. Men who advance the history of the world make stepping-stones of their own lives. How much higher than all our great men was the Son of the carpenter of Galilee. Humanity knows the difference between them and the Saviour.”

it is this next monologue that I like

I have no illusions, and in this world of prey I do not attribute an exaggerated importance to my own conscience, but however small we may be or little we may do, we must exist. We are all liable to err, but
deceived or not, a man should be sincere; an honest mistake is not a lie, but a stage on the road to truth. The real lie is to fear the truth and try to stifle it. Even if you were a thousand times right, if you resort to force to crush a sincere mistake, you commit the most odious crime against reason itself. If reason is persecutor, and error persecuted, I am for the victim, for error has rights as well as truth…. Truth—the real truth, is to be always seeking what is true,  and to respect the efforts of those who suffer in the pursuit. If you insult a man who is striving to hew out his path, if you persecute him who wishes, and perhaps fails, to find less inhuman roads for human progress, you make a martyr of him. Your way is the best, the only one, you say? Follow it then, and let me follow mine. I do not oblige you to come with me, so why are you angry? Are you afraid lest I should prove to be in the right?

and which I find is still relevant in our days.

war is inevitable

As long as men and women are bored, war provides an opportunity for adventure, this bored people will enlist to fight for their countries.

As long power is pleasurable, and war offers an opportunity to get power, there will be war.

Men and women are not rational actors. If we were, we would pursue peace.

As long as countries each have their own army, there will be aggression. So we must hope for peace at all times but prepare for war, because, as I have said it is inevitable. And make no mistake, I am a pacifist, consider being in the army equally as stupid as believing in original sin or Mohammed going to heaven on a Pegasus.

Is there anything to be done to avoid war? Yes? People should be engaged in work that has opportunity for adventure. Boring work schedule leads to ennui and with it, any opportunity to join in a war would be quite tempting for a big majority.

 

who will say with

Tolstoi

And, above all, why should I contribute, whether in person or by paying for military service, to the enslavement and destruction of my brothers and parents? Why should I scourge myself? All this is of no use to me; on the contrary, it does me harm. It is altogether degrading, immoral, mean, and contemptible. Why, then, should I do all this? If I am told that I shall be made to suffer in any event, I reply that in the first place, there can be no possible suffering greater than that which would befall me were I to execute your commands. And in the second place, it is perfectly evident to me that if we refuse to scourge ourselves, no one else will do it for us. Governments are but sovereigns, statesmen, officials, who can no more force me against my will, than the stanovoy could force the peasants; I should be brought before the court, or thrown into prison, or executed, not by the sovereign, or the high officials, but by men in the same position as myself; and as it would be equally injurious and disagreeable for them to be scourged as for me, I should probably open their eyes, and they would not only refrain from injuring me, but would doubtless follow my example. And in the third place, though I were made to suffer for this, it would still be better for me to be exiled or imprisoned, doing battle in the cause of common sense and truth, which must eventually triumph, if not to-day, then to-morrow, or before many days, than to suffer in the cause of folly and evil. It would rather be to my advantage to risk being exiled, imprisoned, or even executed, than remain, through my own fault, a life-long slave of evil men, to be ruined by an invading enemy, or mutilated like an idiot, or killed while defending a cannon, a useless territory, or a senseless piece of cloth called a flag. I have no inclination to scourge myself, it would be of no use. You may do it yourselves if you choose—I refuse

and is there a chance that it is possible?

On war

Bear with me a little more. We are still on Tolstoi and we will be talking about his ideas or what he quotes for the next 2 weeks at least.

First he quotes Maupassant, and I will extract a part of the passage. He, Maupassant, writes

“War!… The fighting!… The murdering!… The slaughter of men!… And to-day, with all our wisdom, civilization, with the advancement of science, the degree of philosophy to which the human spirit has attained, we have schools where the art of murder, of aiming with deadly accuracy and killing large numbers of men at a distance, is actually taught, killing poor, harmless devils who have families to support, killing them without even the pretext of the law.

It is stupefying that the people do not rise up in arms against the governments. What difference is there between monarchies and republics? It is stupefying that society does not revolt as a unit at the very sound of the word war.

“Alas! we shall never be free from oppression of the hateful, hideous customs, the criminal prejudices, and the ferocious impulses of our barbarous ancestors, for we are beasts; and beasts we shall remain, moved by our instincts and susceptible of no improvement.

and then the views of Emile Zola on war

“I look upon war as a fatal necessity which seems to us indispensable because of its close connection with human nature and all creation. Would that it might be postponed as long as possible! Nevertheless a time will come when we shall be forced to fight. At this moment I am regarding the subject from the universal standpoint, and am not hinting at our unfriendly relations with Germany, which are but a trifling incident in the world’s history. I affirm that war is useful and necessary, since it is one of the conditions of human existence. The fighting instinct is to be found not only among the different tribes and peoples, but in domestic and private life as well. It is one of the chief elements of progress, and every advancing step taken by mankind up to the present time has been accompanied by bloodshed.

“Men have talked, and still do talk, of disarmament; and yet disarmament is utterly impossible, for even though it were possible, we should be compelled to renounce it. It is only an armed nation that can be powerful and great. I believe that a general disarmament would be followed by a moral degradation, assuming the form of a widespread effeminacy which would impede the progress of humanity. Warlike nations have always been vigorous. The military art has contributed to the development of other arts. History shows us this. In Athens and Rome, for instance, commerce, industry, and literature reached their highest development when these cities ruled the world by the force of arms. And nearer to our own time we found an example in the reign of Louis XIV. The wars of the great king, so far from impeding the advance of arts and sciences, seemed rather to promote and to favor their progress.”

Is the cause of peace so lost? Should those advocates of pacifism shut it and get something worthwhile, like selling ammunition, to do?

What is the Christian to do?

Should Christians bear arms?

Is non-violence practicable?

And what are your views on this statement by Ballou

“One man must not kill. If he does, it is murder; two, ten, one hundred men, acting on their responsibility, must not kill. If they do, it is still murder. But a state or nation may kill as many as they please, and it is no murder. It is just, necessary, commendable, and right. Only get people enough to agree to it, and the butchery of myriads of human beings is perfectly innocent. But how many does it take? This is the question. Just so with theft, robbery, burglary, and all other crimes. Man-stealing is a great crime in one man, or a very few men only. But a whole nation can commit it, and the act becomes not only innocent, but highly honorable.”

America’s Armed forces 

In times of peace by Major General Smedley Butler

 

Our Ideal Never Defensive

Lest this seem to be the bellicose pipedream of some dyspeptic desk soldier, let us remember that the military deal of our country has never been defensive warfare. Since the Revolution, only the United Kingdom has beaten our record for square miles of territory acquired by military conquest. Our exploits against the American Indian, against the Filipinos, the Mexicans, and against Spain are on a par with the campaigns of Genghis Khan, the Japanese in Manchuria and the African attack of Mussolini. No country has ever declared war on us before we first obliged them with that gesture. Our whole history shows we have never fought a defensive war. And at the rate our armed forces are being implemented at present, the odds are against our fighting one in the near future.

The War Plans Section spends all its time creating blue-prints for the “defense” of this country. This means, f course, vast schemes for foreign invasion and offensive war. The personnel of this division are those whose hides will never be scratched should hostilities occur. Consequently they can devise plans of whatever magnitude they fancy, and against any momentary “enemy.” Nothing troubles them; and, as we shall soon see, such a detail as how their next war is going to be paid for is not even considered.