The Cercle Proudhon 1912

Sorel and Social Architecture

Speech: by Georges Valois;
Source: Cahiers du Cercle Proudhon, 3rd and 4th Cahiers, May-August 1912;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2010.


We had the honor a few months ago of telling you the reasons that led to the founding of our Circle and the reasons that led us to place it under the patronage of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Henri Lagrange will remind you of this in a bit, adding the ideas and sentiments that we have incorporated into our undertaking in the course of a year of our labors. I will only point out our general orientation, which is that of organization placed at the service of an irreducible determination to serve, at the same time as our homes, the French fatherland. And the sense of our idea is this: Destroying the principle that founded the modern economy, that imposed on nations the capitalist regime and subordinated all human values to the value of gold; to found a new economy which will be a national economy and which will judge all the institutions which grow from the economy in keeping with the guarantees they assure French blood.

I will say nothing more about our labors. My task today, which was assigned by my friends, is to ask you to accomplish together with us an act of elementary justice by recognizing and saluting those whose oeuvre made ours possible; those whose ideas have presided over the formation of ours and prepared the meeting of two French traditions that opposed each other during the nineteenth century and which find themselves represented, united, among us today. In beginning of our labors we saluted the memory of the great Proudhon. Today we invite you to pay homage to the master whose name is so often spoken among us: you all understand that I am speaking of the great philosopher Georges Sorel.

Gentlemen, Sorel refused to have disciples. It is possible that he was right in this. He didn’t construct a system of the universe; he didn’t even construct a social system. We can’t even say that he imposes on those who follow him either methods or doctrines. His admirers are dispersed. Some are Catholics, others are outside the church. Others, and there are many of them, have joined Charles Maurras in Action Franšaise. But his influence, though not dogmatic, is nevertheless extremely profound and broad. And if he doesn’t find disciples, those who are attached to him look upon him as a true teacher.

This great disciple-less teacher is listened to by a large and ardent mass. This is explained by the fact that if he didn’t give this mass precise directions. For this mass he is a prodigious intellectual excitant who reveals to every spirit that hears it its own direction. I believe that this is one of the main secrets of Sorel’s mastery: he awakened our intelligence, over-excited it, gave it, I won’t say directions, but new methods for understanding the world, to penetrate its most obscure corners, to connect phenomena that appear separate, to become enriched and to be overcome with each discovery. Those who have followed Sorel have known strong emotions: they are men who are born in the wake of fortunate explorers. In this I appeal to the testimony of the men of my generation who, having passed through the cold desert of rue Saint-Guillaume or through the swamps of rue Tournin when the Jew Dyck May founded the Free College of Social Sciences, had the good fortune of meeting the Master of Boulogne and attached themselves to his oeuvre. With each step taken at his side they made new discoveries. What light was projected by Sorel’s oeuvre on “the obscure world of the economy,” where absurd calculators, trained by M. Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu to know the prosperity of nations according to the rules of arithmetic, were only able to show us somber numerical tables. What life Sorel made appear there! What landscapes! What powerful spectacles arranged by the strongest of passions! It is in this world, where economists see only cold mechanisms unrelated to the religious soul or the politics of the city, that Sorel invited us to discover the plan of great historical events, the explanation of certain religious conflicts, the battlefield of the wars which democracy lives off of, the place where the fate of civilizations is decided. Conceived in this way, the study of the economy becomes as animated, as fascinating as historical and political studies, that is, as the study of social facts in which human passions intervene. Economic history, instead of being dominated by inventions, appears subject to the same laws as those that dominate political life and where the hearts of men beat; in the Circle we say, recalling the first teachings received from Sorel, those subject to the laws of blood. In a word, it enters life, from which economists had expelled it.

This will suffice to explain to you Sorel’s extraordinary influence, the seductiveness his oeuvre exercises over so many intelligences. It is an admirable success to have given new life to a science that had lost it. But Sorel’s oeuvre contains a hundred times more riches than those I have recalled to you, and which should assure his name the prestige it has acquired.

RenÚ de Marans will tell you of some of them, which are capital. I want to finish by recalling to you one of the aspects of the Sorelian oeuvre to which we attach the greatest price, because it determines one of our attitudes, because it serves to establish one of our most important positions. I believe that one of Sorel’s greatest ideas in the matter of social organization is that social constructions must be born and grow of themselves, and that nothing is more dangerous and madder than determining their structure in advance, or giving birth to them artificially from the fantasies of the spirit. There is nothing more traditional than this idea; nothing is more in keeping with the constitution of ancient France. And it is in this way that those among us who belong to Action Franšaise conceive French organization under the monarchy. In this regard remember one of the principles put forth by Maurras: “Liberties are not granted; they are taken.” The same principle guided me when I carried out my investigation of the monarchy and the working class. Sorel granted an extraordinary virtue to this principle. And through his criticism of utopians, of imaginary builders, he demolished all social architects from whatever group they might be who for the past fifty years have prepared so many plans of social reconstruction while at the same time they ruined the foundations of the old, beautiful and solid house where divine favor still graced them with room in which to think. We have gone to the funeral of this whole world, following in the steps of Sorel. And it was gay, for it was not only that of the social architects, it was also their accomplices, the philanthropists and the men of duty. I mean those solemn comedians who undertook to oppose their good sentiments to the workers’ will, who want to moralize the bourgeois and working classes by preaching kindness and patience to the latter, and goodness and generosity to the former; who answer the request for salary increases by scandalous interpretations of biblical words; who give empty talks at conferences and found leagues from which a few tricksters regularly steal the cash box. Finally, it is the salon reformers who made social action a means of arriving either at a university chair or a rich marriage, all of whose actions are expressed in a literature aimed at academic prizes and in society gatherings where members of the “working class elite” were sometimes invited, we mean well brought up workers, good little employees, gentle and courteous towards those of the higher classes, and who were most often taken from among the low world of flat foots who want to get out of the workshop or the office by baseness, hypocrisy, or squealing. Social dreamers, utopians, intellectuals of the social. Friends of the people, organizers of social mechanisms, Hierarchs of the Sorbonne, exploiters of the impulses of the blood and human dreams: these are the monsters Sorel destroyed. It was a powerful oeuvre. And to think that this mass of larvae filled the streets of our cities. And to think that twenty years ago the French nation accorded this human debris considerable prestige. Today, all this is over. All the printed paper where the divagations of social architects have been fixed have been abandoned to the archives. They will now be used only for theses. They no longer give the right to guide human affairs.

Along with Sorel intellectuals themselves dismiss their elders’ pretentions. They conceive of no greater task than that of definitively ruining the prestige that their predecessors had undeservedly acquired among men of the profession. Between this loyal movement of the intelligence determined by Sorel and the movement of blood inspired by syndicalism, the intellectual party is in its death throes. Public life possesses the principles of its cleansing. The groups of the city can organize in keeping with their internal laws. Gentlemen, let us thank Sorel for the eminent part he took in this work in which national salvation is so profoundly served. Let us render homage to Georges Sorel, spiritual father of the French republic.