Anathemas and Admirations

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Authors: E. M. Cioran
resort to them would be to renounce taking sides, to suspend one’s judgment in political matters, to free oneself of the servitudes of duration, to require of man that he waken to the absolute, that he become uniquely a metaphysical animal Such an effort of emancipation, such a leap outside our sleepers’ truths, is accessible to few. We are all dozing, and paradoxically, that is why we take action. Let us continue, then, as if nothing had occurred, let us go on making our traditional distinctions, happy not to know that the values appearing in time are, in the last instance, interchangeable.
    The reasons that impel the political world to forge its concepts and categories are quite different from those invoked by a theoretical discipline; if they appear equally necessary to both, those of the former still conceal realities that are less honorable: all doctrines of action and of combat, with their apparatus and their Schemas, were invented only to give men a good conscience, permitting them to hate each other . . . nobly, without embarrassment without remorse. Upon reflection, would it not be legitimate to conclude that when facing events, the free mind, refractory to the play of ideologies but still subject to time, has a choice only between despair and opportunism?
    De Maistre could no more be an opportunist than he could despair: his religion, his principles, forbade it. But with his moods prevailing over his faith, he frequently had fits of discouragement, especially at the spectacle of a civilization without a future: witness his observations on Europe. He was not the only man who believed that he was dying with the continent. . . . In the last century and in ours, many have been convinced that Europe was on the point of expiring, or that it had only one recourse: to conceal its decrepitude by means of coquetry. The notion that the continent was in its death agony had spread and acquired a certain vogue on the occasion of the great defeats — in France after 1814, 1870, and 1940; in Germany after the collapse of 1918, or that of 1945. Yet Europe, indifferent to its Cassandras, cheerfully perseveres in its agony, and that agony, so stubborn, so durable, is perhaps equivalent to a new life. This whole problem — which comes down to a question of perspective and of ideology — if it is meaningless for Marxists, nonetheless preoccupies both liberals and conservatives, horrified as they are (though as defenders of different positions) to be witnessing the disappearance of their reasons for living, of their doctrines, and of their superstitions. That a form of Europe is dying today, no one will dispute, though such a death must be seen as no more than a simple stage of an immense decline. With Bergson died, according to Valéry, “the last representative of European intelligence,” The formula might serve for other homages or speeches, for we shall find for a long while to come some “last representative” of the Western mind. . . . He who proclaims the end of “civilization” or of “intelligence” does so out of rancor toward a future that to him seems hostile, and out of vengeance against history, faithless history that does not deign to conform to his image of it. De Maistre was dying with his own Europe, with the Europe that rejected the spirit of innovation — “the greatest scourge,” as he called it. It was his conviction that in order to save societies from disorder a universal idea, acknowledged by fair means or foul, was necessary, which would eliminate the danger of entertaining, in religion and in politics, novelty, approximation, theoretical scruples. That this universal idea was incarnated in Catholicism he had no doubt, the diversity of regimes, of mores, and of gods troubling him not at all. Against the relativism of experience he set up the absolute of dogma; that a religion might cease to submit to it, that it might permit private judgment and liberty of thought, he declared harmful and did

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