The Mobilization of Intellect : French Scholars and Writers during the Great War

TitleThe Mobilization of Intellect : French Scholars and Writers during the Great War
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication1996
AuthorsHanna, Martha
Number of Pages292
PublisherHarvard University Press
CityCambridge, Mass.

France went to war in 1914 not only in the trenches but also in the mind. When President Poincare called upon the intellectual elite to contribute to the war effort with "their pens and their words," the union sacree of scholars and writers - including Henri Bergson, Pierre Duhem, Ernest Lavisse, and Emile Durkheim - united French intellect against German Kultur. Yet, as Martha Hanna points out, there were ambiguities and insecurities in such fields as Kantian ideas, classicism, and science. Devoted to the defense of France and united in condemning the German onslaught, the French intelligentsia was nonetheless riven by the same fundamental divisions that had characterized it before the war. The Republican Left remained intent upon the preservation of the Third Republic and its principles; the Catholic and nationalistic Right sought to defend a more traditional France that respected hierarchy, classicism, and religious authority. The fragility of the facade of unity was particularly evident in the wartime controversy over Kant. The Left, finding his theory of moral obligation and individual autonomy compatible with its political culture, argued in his defense that German nationalism and militarism began after Kant, with Fichte, or Hegel, while the Right denounced the German philosopher as the evil inspiration of France's liberal democracy and public school system. The heated rhetoric of the war and the unbearable loss of young lives, says Hanna, lent weight to a redefinition of French culture in national terms - and this, ironically, ended in the cultural conservatism of Vichy France.

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