1 février 2017

Faith and revolution. 3/4 The premiss of relativity. By Roger Garaudy

III/ The premiss of relativity

My second premiss is that of what may be called, for want of a better
term, relativity. If the first premiss asserts the possibility of a radical
break with nature as given, the second asserts the possibility of a radical
break with ail forms of social alienation. This is the premiss that all
historical achievements are relative. The postulate of a possible escape
from alienation might also be called the 'prophetie' premiss, since the
prophets of Israël were here the pioneers, with their struggle against
idolatry, against what we call 'alienation'. The prophets taught that no
work of man's hand or brain should ever be regarded as absolute, as
permanent, as definitive. This second premiss could also be expressed
as follows : no historical achievement can ever be treated as a final goal ;
that is the way all institutions are perverted. When a Church thinks
of itself as the visible image of the City of God, when a monarchy claims
divine right, when capitalism claims to fulfil natural law, when Stalinism
claims to be the embodiment of socialism, then the society in question
is perverted. Any dogmatism of this kind robs a political system of its
essential human dimension, namely of the possibility of transcending
itself. Bertolt Brecht spoke truly when he declared : 'We must change
the world, and then we shall have to change the changed world.' This
prophetie challenge seems to me indispensable, not least to Marxism
if this is not to degenerate into a new form of Stalinism.
Seen in this way, the act of artistic creation may perhaps provide both
revolutionary action and the Christian faith with the example they need.
The act of creation is an attempt to break out of the closed world of
man. In his Voix du silence, Malraux says : 'Bound though art may be
to the civilization which gives it birth, it often goes beyond it and perhaps
even transcends it, as if it were summoning up forces beyond its
ken, appealing to a human wholeness beyond its reach.'
Affirmation of another world cannot be used as a pretext to cast an
aura of sanctity over our actions in this world, or over established orders
or counter-revolutions, or even revolutions.
We have no positive criterion, of course, to enable us to determine
what is going in fact to live, no way of judging between the various
possibilities for the future, i.e. what does not yet exist and what may
perhaps never exist. But the great merit of the Christian faith in this
respect, and the reason why Marxism needs its challenge if it is not to
become a closed dogmatism, is that this faith not only teaches us a
negative theology which prevents us from saying that God is this or that
and so enclosing Him in a definition, but also provides us with a negative
anthropology which prevents us from saying that man is this or that,
and so enclosing him in a definition. Perhaps it also provides us with a
negative ethics and a negative politics which prevent us from saying this
or that is the good or the perfect order and thus enclosing them too in
a definition.

A certain way of posing questions
Looked at in this light, faith is perhaps a certain way of posing questions,
beginning with the most basic, the question of meaning and purpose.
This means a break with the established system of values. In this respect,
I think the Roman authorities were not mistaken ; even if Christ could
not be identified as a Zealot, i.e. had no political programme for the
overthrow of the Roman Empire, it was still the case that he challenged
ail established values ; they did not mistake their target in striking at
Christ as someone who seemed to them to be a revolutionary, more
subversive indeed than if he had sponsored a programme of direct
political action like that of the Zealots. Jesus had in fact made a radical
breach in the most fundamental law of society, that which is based on
property, power and expertise. He refused to play the game — even
the game of justice — according to the rules.
In this connection it may be noted that our textbooks of philosophy
often solve the problem of reconciling justice and love much too easily,
as if love were merely a slightly larger measure of justice. But love is in
fact the contrary of justice. Let me illustrate this. Victor Hugo's Les
Misérables was recently presented on French television. Many viewers
must have asked themselves which of the characters represented justice:
Bishop Myriel or Javert the policeman ? It is surely Javert who is on
the side of justice, since justice here means treating people as they are,
the criminal as a criminal, the innocent as innocent. And when the
bishop helps a thief to evade punishment by claiming that he had given
him the stolen candlesticks, love is seen to be the contrary of justice,
not its complement. This is why the upholders of law and order usually
have little sympathy for love, since love is always a fomenter of disorder.
Precisely for this reason a revolution can never be complete and irreversible
unless it bases its judgments not on justice but on love. To base
them on justice is to appeal to the past, and to be just then means
treating people in accordance with what they have done, i.e. in accordance
with their past, whereas love is a wager on the future, a risk of the
kind taken by Bishop Myriel in Les Misérables. A whole human life
can be radically changed by this act of love. It is not a matter of giving
each man his due, but of giving each man everything, namely the absolute
trust which leaves him room, prophetie room, to become a different
man. Without this there will be no revolution. There will be a transfer
of property, a transfer of power, a transfer of culture, but the tyrannies
and alienations will remain.
Seen in this light, the problem is to know what kind of society we can
bring about. Up to now we have known two kinds of society. There
is the individualist conception, that of Rousseau, for example, in his
Contrat social, where we have it in its pure form. Here, society does
not exist prior to the decision of individuals to establish it. Society is
a voluntary association of independent, rational, individual human
beings who decide to cooperate in order to provide for the corporate
satisfaction of specific needs. That is one type of society, French
Revolution type, if you like. Then there is the totalitarian conception
which holds on the contrary that society embodies a community which
exists prior to the individuals who constitute it.
Marx's criticism of both these types of society was twofold. He illustrated
by means of the Jewish question the superficial character of
democracy on Rousseau's pattern and demonstrated the mythical
character of totalitarianism in his critique of Hegel's political philosophy.
But though Marx showed that socialism is neither individualist (with
Proudhon) nor totalitarian (with Hegel), he was unable for historical
reasons to produce a model of the society he wished to see. Thus the
problem seems to me to be to devise a society in which personal freedom
does not degenerate into the individualism of the jungle — the spectacle
afforded us by the entire history of capitalism — and in which the
community ethos does not degenerate into totalitarianism — which is
unfortunately where non-capitalist societies have ended until now.
Totalitarian society based on the notion of a pre-existing community is
essentially an appeal to the past. Individualistic society on Rousseau's
pattern is merely the outcome of unrelated individual decisions, of a
contract which embodies these decisions at each given moment, and
appeals to the present. In the former case, society is an organic whole
composed of different objects. In the latter case, it is composed of
nothing but subjects, and, to tell the truth, of egoistic subjects. But
neither takes into account man's fundamental dimension, namely his
future. The one is based on man's past, the other on man's present.
One regards man as an object, the other as a subject. But man is first
and foremost a project. When we speak of a model of socialism different
from those already known to us, the problem is precisely to secure room
for this fundamental dimension to be respected, to allow for man's
future and for his possibility of, so to speak, projecting his prophetic
This is why — here again we find an aesthetic imperative — one of the
main criteria for defining any particular social system is its official
attitude to the creative work of the artist. It may do what capitalist
societies do and make works of art part and parcel of the market
economy, or it may do what present socialist régimes do and make them
subservient to apologias for current policies. In neither case is there
any respect for what is specifically human in man, namely for his capacity
to look ahead, for the prophetic character which is also the basic character
of ail great art and the criterion of society as it should be : neither
individualist nor totalitarian, based neither on the past nor on the
present but on the future ; a society which is 'eschatological', or, if that
smacks too much of theology, a forward-looking society, open to hope
and respectful of the prophetic character of each and every man.
Admittedly this model of society has still to be filled out and put into
practice, but the fact that it does not yet exist does not mean that it
never will. On the eve of any revolution there have always been those
who said : It has never happened before. It can't happen now.' I do
not believe such a society is utopian. Any new style, any new idea of
man has always been dismissed as folly. After ail, Christianity was
folly to the wise in their wisdom. The French Revolution, it was said,
was an absurd and criminal attempt to overthrow the inevitable and
eternal order of things.
To affirm this possibility of advancing beyond the present and the past
is the second essential premiss of ail revolutionary action as of ail faith.

Roger Garaudy


THE ECUMENICAL REVIEW – 1973-January - pages 59 to 79
 A lecture, transcribed from a recording, given at the Ecumenical Centre, Geneva, in
October 1972 on the occasion of an exhibition of books and journals in French (see Ecumenical Diary , below). ROGER GARAUDY is Professor of Aesthetics in the University of Poitiers, France. His books include From Anathema to Dialogue (English édition : London, Collins and Co. and New York, Herder and Herder, 1966) and L'Alternative (Paris, Robert Laffont, 1972). The lecture was translated from the French by the WCC Language Service. The original is published in the Bulletin du Centre Protestant d'Etudes, Geneva, 1973.



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Si je ne brûle pas
Si tu ne brûles pas
Si nous ne brûlons pas,
Comment les ténèbres
Deviendront-elles clarté ?

Nazim Hikmet, poète communiste turc (1901-1963), traduit par son ami Garaudy