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Maëlle Mercier – Jean Jaurès: Nurturing Politics with Art and Science

Maëlle Mercier

Schiller Institute, Paris


Good afternoon,

We are a group of young activists having studied Jean Jaurès, in order to deal with today’s challenges, and from the standpoint of that decisive moment of the Twentieth Century where not only was he murdered, but where humanity fell into a new Barbary—that of the war of trenches and of ideologies.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Why have we gathered here today? What is the basis of the BRICS’ drive toward a new paradigm, and of those very real infrastructural projects which are being built in the world at breathtaking speed?

It’s nothing more than an idea; a very small idea which even though infinitesimal, is uplifting men, shifting mountains, and will soon change the Universe. (The New Space silk road and the lunar program!)

This idea however could have never sprung from the pragmatic “souls,” from the “realistic” minds such as those of our Western leaders.

Why? Because they have been programmed to reason in terms of a given system, of its “geopolitics,” its debts, its contracts, its balance of power (dominant and dominated); because they only reason in terms of what they “see,” of that which exists already and that which is past.

Without imagination, without the power of mind therefore and its capacity to move beyond the present, and beyond matter, the future is condemned.

The challenge for our civilization is thus to give it back its part of the “ideal,” of “infinity.” This is a very difficult thing to do within the context of this materialist, violent and sexual counter-culture where man has been reduced to the state of an animal, determined by its passions and his senses.

And in particular here, in this country of Cartesian doubt which is France, where the only alternative to this bestialisation is not “the ideal,” but the impotent prison of mathematical abstraction and analysis (the French are well known for their rabid criticisms, and their commentaries on reality, but they do not act)! In short, to give back to man its full humanity and capacity to transform and create the condition s of the future, he must bring harmony to his emotions and his reason, and recreate the faculty of imagination.

If this is the role of Art (something which Friedrich Schiller developed magnificently), of philosophy and science (Leibniz), is this something that can be realized through politics?

Yes! The proof is the philosophical struggle of Jean Jaurès who was indeed inspired by Leibniz and Schiller.

What Jaurès Fought

It is well known that Jean Jaurès was murdered for having attempted to stop World War One, that war in which the great powers ripped themselves apart because, like today, they were on the verge of forming a new alliance, a new model for peace and progress, and because the British Empire saw that process as a danger for its own power.

Indeed, France, Russia, and Germany—thanks to certain of their elites such as Gabriel Hanotaux and Sergei Witte—had laid the foundations for the new Silk Road through the construction of the Transiberian and Berlin-Bagdad railways.

Yet, dark clouds in the horizon hovered first over France, before moving onto Germany in the 1930’s, and to Italy next. The same clouds of which Jaurès said: “Capitalism carries within itself the germ of war, like rain clouds carry thunder storms.”

Jaurès was born in 1859, the year of the publication of “On the Origin of Species.” In this essay, the British Charles Darwin developed his famous doctrine of evolution. However, is this theory of the survival of the fittest, not the perfect justification of the oligarchic principle of social triage, of which British liberalism and Malthusianism are so fond?

Just prior to that, Gobineau, a Frenchman, had published his “Essay on the Inequality of Human Races.” Since the end of the Nineteenth Century, a fad had developed among distinguished and intellectual French circles: how to identify the “races” according to human morphological traits.

#It is thus that left-wing French anthropoligist, Vacher de Lapouge, who liked to measure the skulls of men in order to justify the thesis developed in his book The Aryan: His Social Role, provided already then the main arguments for Nazism:

There are no more rights of men, than there are rights of the Tatou (.. .) or of eatable beef. There are only forces. Fraternity is all right, but woe to the losers! Life can only be maintained by death. To live one has to kill, kill in order to eat.

What are the common bases of all those doctrines which created the perfect grounds for the anti-Semitism and the anti-German revanchism which emerged in France in those years?

It was a fixed and material vision of man, defined only by his body, his organic material, his physical relations to the world, a world itself totally arbitrary: a negation thus, of the human mind, of its capacity to change, to discover, to create, a capacity for transcendence.

This situation is further aggravated by the rule of positivism, a doctrine founded by the Frenchman Auguste Comte, who chopped history into predetermined ages, negating the role of human will and of ideas. First two naïve ages : the theological age of the Middle-ages and the metaphysical age of the Renaissance; then the modern rational age: the age of positivism where a socalled science inherited from the Enlightenment, finally rules.

This objective science would have finally understood, following Newton and Descartes, that the world is totally dependent on matter: there is no sense, no God, no unity. And being chaotic, one cannot apprehend it except by approximation, only relying on facts accumulated through our sense perception.

In short, since ideas do not exist, and since one cannot have access to the causes of things, one is incapable of any discovery (not even that of universal gravitation, by nature invisible to our sense). And, one cannot change the world.

The working-class parties and the political entourage of Jaurès, will be deeply hampered by this: Incredible, for revolutionary left wing parties! For Jules Ferry, for instance, whom France celebrates for his defense of a secular education:

One does not revolt against what is; one does not substitute, in social practice, what could be to what there is. The concentration of capitals is a certain fact …; one does not engage against this general tendency which operates like a mechanical force, an impossible and ridiculous struggle. (The Positive Philosophy, 1867)

The Marxists were in a comparable situation: Since they defend a materialist conception of history, having, according to them, its own internal logic, they de facto condemn the individual and the proletariat to be nothing but objects of forces and of a class struggle which transcends them.

In those conditions, progress is both impossible and fiercely rejected, to such an extent that in 1911, those close to Maurras, an extreme right-wing nationalist, and George Sorel, a self-defined Marxist, said that in France:

In order to save civilization, the first animal to kill is the belief in progress, it is that optimism . . . which generated the sinister farce of the [French revolution] of 1789.

It is difficult, in those conditions to envisage any other solution than that of all against all, the struggle for a vital space! Something which should make us reflect upon those politically correct myths circulating today, which negate the creation of new resources and promote theories of de-growth and of green energies.

It is thus in the name of progress and to give back to the world and to man, their right to infinity, their right to create and to generate ideas to insure the future, that Jaurès led his political and philosophical struggle against the beginnings of fascism.

‘An Acting Infinite’

Jaurès’ doctoral dissertation, “On the reality of a sensuous world,” prepared under the direction of a Leibnizian philosopher, attacked the positivists and materialists, but also the “idealists” and the “formalists” for being just as dangerous. He scored the idealists for condemning reality as a vain illusion, and the formalists, for reducing it to the “dryness of a logical construction.”

His aim was to show the scientific, rather than the ideological, character of progress, as an integral part of nature and of human nature. He proved that there is a permanent interaction between the living and the thinking, between ideas and things, allowing the constant creation of increasingly superior forms of existence.

Thus for Jaurès:

For all the living, the problem of the infinite is fully posed, at whatever the period of the Universe they emerged.”. .. “The sum of the movements in the world is an acting infinite, where Mathematics does not have its place. One should not consider the Universe, and its movements and energies, as an unending budget . … Here, it is not the resources that measure the expenses; it is rather the infinity of the work to be accomplished which provides for a correspondent infinity of resources.

The above is an appropriate attack on the partisans of budget austerity ruling today in Washington and in Brussels.

This is fully coherent with his political and parliamentary struggle according to which:

every individual has the right to full growth. He has thus the right to demand from humanity all that can second this effort (Socialism and Life).

And indeed, Jaurès will defend, against capitalism and usury, the idea of national credit, of a public bank issuing currency to service the future productive needs of the nation, which will be finally realized during the Thirty glorious years after WWII.

Let us reflect upon this passage of his thesis, which is very polemical from a philosophical standpoint, but fundamental. It is after the beginning of chapter 3, when after having descended layer by layer, from molecules to the small atoms, in the infinitely small of matter, he concludes:

Science itself, when seeking for the support of material movement and for the last element of matter, leads us to a reality which has nothing material left to it, which cannot be perceived by the senses, which only exists for the mind.

Comparing his exploration to that of Virgil and Dante, who, having taken another road to leave the depth of Inferno, finally rediscovered the stars .. . Jaurès continues:

Guided by science, we continued to descend always further, always lower in the depth of matter; and there also, in those dangerous abysses where one could wonder whether all would not dissolve in blind fatality, we found movements superposed, circles and whirlpools: and at the opposite opening of those abysses, we also rediscovered the stars.

Mind is the Basis for Matter

Let me now make a detour to the great physicist Max Planck to whom we owe the discovery of the quantum. This is what he declared at the end of his life in the 1930s, as the materialist and utilitarian conception of man was coming to its apogee in Germany, with the horrors that were experienced there:

As a physicist who committed his entire life to a sober science, the study of matter, I am surely free of any suspicion that could make of me a fanatic. And so I affirm on the basis of my research on the atom, that there is no matter in itself. All matter does not emerge or exist except for a force which sets in motion the atomic and keeps them together like the most minute solar systems of the Universe. But since there is neither intelligent force, nor any exterior force in the Universe as a whole, we must postulate an intelligent mind behind this force. Mind is thus the basis for matter.

Indeed, if one reflects upon this well, a paradox surrounds us permanently, and it’s something that Jaurès will not hesitate to use during a debate against Marx’s son-in-law, Paul Lafargues, a debate published under the heading of “Materialism and idealism in the conception of history.”

How can our brain itself generate new ideas, new scientific discoveries, if the origin of those ideas was not to be found in the mechanical cogs of matter, chemical reaction after chemical reaction?

Jaurès responded:

If I’m saying these words at this moment, it’s because the idea that I am expressing at this very minute arose lengthily from a prior idea and from the series of all prior ideas. But it is also because I want to realize in the future what I see before me, an aim, an intention, an end; and thus my present thought, while it seems to be determined by the series of past thoughts, has been also provoked by an idea of the future. Yet it is the same with history: while one can explain all the historical phenomena by pure economic evolution, you can also explain them by the restless and permanent desire of humanity of a higher form of existence. Before the experience of history, before the constitution of such or such economic system, humanity carries in itself a pre-established idea of justice and of right and it is this preconceived ideal that it pursues from a form of civilization to a superior form of civilization.

Ideas are not social conventions, pure inventions of the brain, or of human society. They are not detached entities from the real world. They are “natural” in the sense that the Universe, for its own needs, to continue its task of creation of the world, generates them through the human mind.

Yet, what is this idea that is at the foundation of the BRICS movement and the New Silk Road? This idea is that of progress, progress to go beyond the borders of the unknown. And how will it be ensured? By mutually assured creativity and human discovery.

We absolutely need to win the struggle of Jaurès. If not, once again humanity will be destroyed, and with it, the world.