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Bernanos: polemicist and prophet of our world.

IN 1931, WHEN HE PUBLISHED La Grande Peur des bien-pensants, Georges Bernanos was part of a small group of writers promoting Catholic constitutional monarchy for his country. That strikes us as utterly aberrant for a twentieth-century political program, but we need to recall the devastating effects of the world war in which he participated for four years. It was the worst thing that could happen. Life in the trenches where Bernanos volunteered to serve was filth, disease, poison gas, and unprecedented massacre by artillery and machine gun fire; tactics were regularly misdirected by a highly incompetent military staff. The effect on people's estimation of established political order was commensurately disheartening. Republican forms of government, popular democracies, began to appear to citizens all across the political spectrum as a recent, failed experiment. By the end of the thirties, four out of five European democracies, excepting France alone on the continent, succumbed to totalitarian regimes. Add Soviet Russia to that number along with a worldwide depression and you see the wave of the future in the darkest imaginable terms.

What Bernanos retained from a monarchist outlook was the value that the ancien regime attached to the notion of honor, which he sometimes wrote with a capital "H." It is a theme unique to him as a Catholic writer, and one that has a role, I think, in his recasting the Gertrude von Le Fort story as a play, Dialogue des Carmelites, for which Francis Poulenc composed the opera we celebrate here. "L'honneur" has a distinctly French resonance. The time of this writing marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Algiers, where the French paratroopers marched into the city to quell an anticolonial insurgency. They won the battle but lost the war, in no small measure due to the scandal of systematic torture authorized by the military in a ruthless search for information about the rebels, who did not hesitate to plant bombs in public places where the "Algeriens francais" regularly gathered. The conduct of the army nonetheless divided public opinion fiercely on the continent--Francois Mauriac wrote vigorously against it in the Bloc Notes he composed for Le Figaro--as many, right and left, felt that, in the words of that period's best historian, "la France y perd son honneur." (1) It was the notion of honor, as we shall see, that fueled Bernanos's criticism of his own Church during the Spanish Civil War; it motivated his early allegiance to the French Resistance headed by Charles de Gaulle, whom he identified very early on as the general saw himself, "chef et symbole de l'Honneur francais" during the German occupation of his country. (2)

Throughout his writings, Bernanos repeatedly denies that he is a "polemiste," just as he denies that he is a prophet, but he is both, I think, and it is in these roles that we are drawn to the nonfiction writer; that is, for the energy and urgency of his prose style, for its exquisitely modulated alternations of rage, sarcasm, tenderness, and passionate lyricism. This resonates even in the titles of some of his works, Sous le Soleil de Satan, Journal d'un cure de campagne, La Grande Peur des bien pensants, Les Grands Cimetieres sous la lune: the words trip off the tongue alliteratively and rhythmically. When not writing novels, Bernanos is a great orator, perhaps France's last, excepting, of course, Charles de Gaulle, with whom he felt a strong affiliation. We find him writing in the last age of public oratory, an age heroic and demonic at once in this regard, for hosting Roosevelt and Churchill and de Gaulle himself, and also Hitler and Mussolini, whose mass rallies reinvented political theater of the kind that had not been seen since the French Revolution. And as Dialogues takes place during the more sanguinary events of that period, I will focus on its meaning for Bernanos, for whom it is the hinge pin of European history, holding out great promise and resulting in great tragedy.

Bernanos's religious thought as a Catholic Christian is thoroughly orthodox. He states that, if stranded on a desert island, the two books he would want to have with him are his catechism and a vast "history of my country" (Ecrits de combat I, xli). The paired choices are striking: not scripture, not the Bible, but the catechism, Catholic Christianity as reformulated and predigested by the Roman magisterium, and this choice despite the barbs at the papacy that stud his regularly anticlerical polemics. He does not discuss or analyze dogma; he sees the world through it. History for Bernanos was, as for St. Augustine before him, rooted in the Incarnation, whose own meaning he assumes to such an extent to be understood that he never dwells or elaborates on it, or on any of the fundamental tenets of Catholic faith: the Passion, the Resurrection are givens, regarding which we find allusions only, not extended meditations.

Contemporary history, politics--not dogma--is the writer's elective turf, his battleground, and on this plane, he mostly encounters what he dubs as "les Imbeciles." This is an ubiquitous and all-embracing category, which, rather like the pervasive notion of "betise" in Flaubert, has so many manifestations in public life as to nearly entirely overlap with it. "Les Imbeciles" exhibit mental and moral laziness and above all cowardice; unthinking, unreflective, they display insensitive adherence to class and group interests, with recourse to slogans and bromides issuing from nefarious ideological positions in a way that should remind us of Yeats's line of verse in "The Second Coming:" "the best are without conviction, the worst are full of passionate intensity." "Les Imbeciles" embraces both categories of ignominy.

The word most often appears with a capital "I" in Bernanos's writings, as the phenomenon inundates public life, that of journalists, professors, politicians, and clerics perhaps above all, to whom his reproach in La Grande Peur is as follows: "Anyone capable of sacrificing truth to the interests or the prestige of the clergy and of the faithful--that is to say, anyone capable of 'lying for the good cause' is a clerical." (3) This will be the basis for his indignation about the role of priests and prelates in the Spanish Civil War, as recorded in Les Grands Cimetieres sous la lune.

La Grande Peur des bien-pensants is his indefensible defense of Edouard Drumont, the author of the late nineteenth-century twelve-hundred-page best seller, La France juive; it is his attack against the political left, socialist and centrist, against Juares and Clemenceau, and, for all his debt to the philosemitic Charles Peguy, against the Dreyfusards as well. History is not on his side here; after the Second World War, he will declare that Hitler has "dishonored" anti-Semitism (Ecrits de combat II, 614), confident in the very French idea that there is a respectable form of this prejudice. Leon Bloy, one of Bernanos's masters, identified modern capitalism as "la conquete juive" (La Grande Peur, 388), particularly as it issued from the ongoing industrial revolution with its monopoly of the cash nexus and its wage slavery, blaming the Jew as the embodiment of such developments. Doubtless none of these writers suspected the likelihood of the Holocaust, which they would have condemned unsparingly, but their writings contributed strongly to the possibility of those atrocities by favoring a social and moral climate that was conducive to their occurrence.

Bernanos's own view is that he is writing in the name of "a properly religious conception of the human person" (La Grande Peur, 408), which he opposes to what he describes as anarchic individualism of every stripe, a view that places its faith in "social insurance" rather than Christian charity. He writes throughout his works of respecting "la douleur" of those who suffer from poverty, rather than treating poverty as a problem for administrative solution. It is a point we find insistently in the essays of Simone Weil as well. (4) "Justice," writes Bernanos, "which is not according to Christ, justice without love, quickly becomes a raging beast." (5) This view instantiates a remark of G.K. Chesterton that Bernanos is fond of citing, namely that the twentieth century is that of "Christian virtues gone mad." A thirst for "justice sans amour" is what he saw in France's infamous Reign of Terror and in the totalitarian menace of postwar Europe.

Today we might label him "conservative," but pointlessly, in view of his tirades against the conservative right, which he came to identify with the worst aspects of Vichy France. "Conservateur" for Bernanos means the desire of elites to hold on to their property and prerogatives at any cost, including eager capitulation and submission to a repressive and sanguinary regime. Like Baudelaire a century earlier, Bernanos is writing against what the poet called our "auto-idolatrie," which Bernanos labels "totalizing man, who knows neither God nor master, being unto himself his own end--the enfranchisement of man, which is to say of the man's instincts, of the divinized human animal" (La Grande Peur, 384). (6) Bernanos's reproach to modern society, including Christian socialists and secularism of every stripe, is posed as the question: "What is, after all, the Christian social order outside of a plan for Redemption?" (La Grande Peur, 395). (7) Modern society has a social plan but no Redemption plan, by which alone it should, indeed can only, be recognized as Christian or Catholic. We see him taking the long view here from a vision of eternity that never came into doubt. Eventually it clarified his own historical vision.

Les Grands Cimetieres sous la lune of 1937, the counterpart to the scathing diatribe of La Grande Peur, is a four hundred-page broadside against the religious right. It is correctly seen by critics as marking a break and a turning point in Bernanos's historical imagination and in his thematic focus. His experience of Franco's policies and practices in Spain when he was a temporary resident in Majorca saved him from becoming a second-rate monarchist crank raging against the delusions of social security and the abuses of the steam engine. It saved him especially, definitively, from the Catholic nationalist bigotry of Charles Maurras's Action francaise. For here Bernanos came to see on location, in flesh and blood, what "le parti clerical" came to embody in its exercise of political and military power.

His indignation is directed, for instance, against the local "comite de depuration," which he describes as typically composed of "the bourgeois landowner or his foreman, the sacristan, the curate or his housekeeper, and young phalangists drunk with the fear they inspire." (8) He witnesses their methodical night arrests and assassinations in the name of what they choose to regard, against the author's fierce objection, as a "crusade." In Les Grands Cimetieres, he takes the side of the people, "le peuple," against the armies of Franco, Mussolini, and Hitler, and against the Roman Catholic hierarchy, citing bishops by name. He views the people as first and ever since betrayed by the "notaries, bailiffs, [and] lawyers" of the Reign of Terror of 1793, which he will thereafter contrast to the "explosion de la liberte" of 1789 (hereafter "'89"). Of the people, he writes: "They require work, they require bread, and an honor which is proper to them, as devoid as possible of any psychological refinements, an honor which is proper to their work and their bread" (Les Grands Cimetieres, 70). (9) Here and elsewhere, one feels the Davidic rhythms orchestrating his prose.

Note the two mentions of "l'honneur" at the end of his text. In the name of Jeanne d'Arc and against "M. Hitler" (a derogatory, belittling cognomen defying reference to "le chancelier allemand" or the Fuhrer) he will evoke this notion as
 the genius of honor which our people have so supernaturalized that
 at a certain point they all but made of it a fourth theological
 virtue--Oh our fathers, our dead! Oh cherished corpses. ... The
 World needs honor. It is honor that is lacking to the World. The
 World has everything it has needed, and it enjoys nothing because
 it lacks honor. The World has lost its self-respect. Indeed, no
 sensible man will have the ludicrous idea of learning the laws of
 honor from Nicolas Machiavelli or Lenin. That would be as stupid
 as going to the Casuists for it. Honor is an absolute. (Les Grands
 Cimetieres, 128, 433-34) (10)

He writes, he says, in the name of "l'honneur chretien," whose definition, he adds, "is not to be found among the Austrian episcopate." "It is the mysterious fusion of human honor and the charity of Christ" (Les Grands Cimetieres, 429-30). (11) He has no hesitation to repeat his terms, which flow in psalmic cadences of an at-once desperate and confident faith.

What he condemns in Lenin and the communist left, along with Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini, is not the use of force but its mystique, "the religion of Power in service to the totalitarian State, of the dictatorship of Public Safety committees, power considered not as a means but as an end" (Les Grands Cimetieres, 129). (12) Here again, we find him opposing 1789 to 1793 and identifying fascism with the Reign of Terror; as he says elsewhere, "All Reigns of Terror are alike, there is nothing to choose between them" (Les Grands Cimetieres, 161). (13) And specifically in the context of the Spanish civil war, the role of the Church is excoriated:
 I understand very well that the spirit of Fear and the spirit of
 Vengeance--but is the latter anything but the ultimate
 manifestation of Fear--inspire the Spanish counter-Revolution.
 That such a spirit has inspired it does not surprise me at all.
 That it can nourish it for so long, that is the problem. I write,
 in plain language, that the Reign of Terror would have exhausted
 its force long ago if the more or less avowed complicity of the
 priests and the faithful had not ultimately succeeded in giving it
 a religious character. (Les Grands Cimetieres, 146) (14)

He therefore reproves all the language evoking the struggle in Spain, on the part of generals, priests, and bishops, as a new crusade. Why, he asks rhetorically, bring the Church into critical question? "But it is in question, it is from her that I hold everything dear, nothing can appeal to me except through her. The scandal which I experience through her has wounded me to the quick of my soul, to the roots of hope" (Les Grands Cimetieres, 147-48). (15) Scandal here is not a stumbling block to his faith, but a building block, as I shall discuss shortly.

It is in Spain that the prophetic voice is sounded that will carry him, we may say, "honorably" through the French Resistance, although he participated in the Resistance from Brazil because he found the air in France unbreathable, "irrespirable," as it was leading to Munich and what he consequently foresaw as an inevitable defeat of his country, a defeat for Europe as a whole.

History has borne him out; he chose at the outset to struggle for what was to become the winning side, when all but a tiny handful of his fellow countrymen only sought ways to reconcile themselves to their stunning, catastrophic defeat. The list of eminent writers in this capitulation is long, and includes many who subsequently joined the resistance. (16) I think we can only attribute his resistance, and his clairvoyance, to the authoritative virtue of hope, "l'esperance," that guides his scandalized conscience. Bernanos prefers using the word "esperance," the verbal active participle form, to the static substantive, "l'espoir," because for him it is a vital premise of mental and moral organization and active thinking rather than a theological abstraction. "I write as I suffer and as I hope," he remarks in the journal of 1939-40 before the debacle, and that is how we find him writing from Brazil during the Occupation of his country. (17)

He left France because he experienced it as a culture mired in self-deceit, which he analyzes later with great acuity in his writings during and after the war. For the prophet, the truth is known, to himself and to his people; what calls especially for rebuke is deceit, which never goes without strong doses of self-deceit, of which Bernanos provides a perspicuous analysis. "They bend their tongues like bows, falsehood and not truth is grown strong in the land," we read in Jeremiah, who berates his people for their collective, mutual, systemic deceit: "Everyone deceives his neighbor and no one speaks the truth. They have taught their tongue to speak lies ... heaping oppression upon oppression and deceit upon deceit" (Jer 9:3-6, NRSV). Here is our author's dissection of this dynamic:
 We are dupes, but to recall the atrocious remark of Collot
 d'Herbois [the Revolutionary tribunal prosecutor], when implored
 in favor of the little marquess of Levis, age seventeen: "There
 are no innocents among the aristocrats," I affirm that there are
 no innocents among the dupes, that you could not find dupes who
 were totally innocent of the dupery of which they are at once,
 almost always, dupe and accomplice, that there is a certain
 principle of dupery which is common to the deceiver and deceived;
 in short that anyone who is deceived has within himself what it
 takes to become a deceiver in turn. Yes, the dupe is ordinarily
 the parasite of the person who fools him, that is what we need to
 know. ... That self-deceit is doubtless the secret motivation of
 their lies. (La Liberte, 154) (18)

Identifying this collusion of deceiver and deceived is an operation that today we would recognize as deconstruction, which in the writings of Jacques Derrida performs a critique of difference: the opposition or construct of liar and lied to, of duper and duped, is revealed as a problematic and complicitous relationship of interdependence.

Bernanos's lengthy meditations on imposture insist on this same structural connivance in a conception of mendacity that displaces and replicates that of "les Imbeciles":
 I think that lies are a parasite, the liar a host to the parasite,
 who scratches himself where his guest itches him. ... We are never
 sure that the lies of others will not find in our own depths
 another complicitous lie, to which it is in advance attuned, by a
 kind of abject propagation. ... The impostor and the imposture are
 one and the same, this is inevitable within imposture. ... The
 impostor does not dispose of his imposture as he pleases,
 according to his fancy, all impostures are of a piece, that is what
 I wished to demonstrate to the Spanish dignitaries, to the
 contemptible Jesuit superiors of Palma. (Les Enfants humilies,
 165-66) (19)

Bernanos shares Pascal's insight into mutual self-deception, which he crowns with a theological vision summoning our imagination to see hell on earth: "We always end up by hating the truth which we have willfully misunderstood; that is one of the great secrets of life, and it is also that of eternal damnation" (Les Enfants humilies, 35). (20) The spirit of Munich that he indicts here is of a piece with the "underground psychology" that Dostoevsky explores in his portrayal of self-destructive murderers, of self-despising nihilists in Demons. (21)

It is in his wartime writings that Bernanos expresses an ever more positive view of the Revolution, which he exhorts his fellow countrymen to renew, issuing a call to "reprendre notre Revolution" as "a full explosion of traditional French humanism. For a brief time, for but a few days of a radiant summer, Freedom was one and indivisible" (Ecrits de combat II, 985). (22) The year 1789 is a kind of epiphany that he contrasts to "absolute equality before the law" leading to "absolute authority of the state without control" (Ecrits de combat II, 997), which he saw embodied in the sanguinary scourge of the Reign of Terror. (23) "La Declaration des droits de l'homme" was "an outcry of faith in man" (La Liberte, 134); "the Revolution of '89 was the revolution of Man, inspired by religious faith in humans" (Ecrits de combat II, 1001). (24) Its roots are embedded in Christianity (Ecrits de combat II, 600, 629). This is a current of thought that runs through the writings of Tocqueville and Michelet in nineteenth-century France, who viewed the Enlightenment as a continuation of, not a movement against, Christianity's emancipatory and truth-seeking impulses. By our time this argument has been borne out by massive historical evidence and analysis, despite the claims of the village atheists among us. (25)

In sum, Bernanos equates the passion for freedom with passion for truth (La Liberte, 124), in a way that announces the papal encyclical Lux et veritas of a while back, which made Catholic liberals incomprehensibly nervous. From far-off Brazil, he identifies "la Resistance francaise" with "la Revolution francaise," professing his faith in France as "la Liberatrice, l'Emancipatrice, la Redemptrice" (Ecrits de combat II, 526).

After the war, he returns to France by the express and particular invitation of General de Gaulle, who sent emissaries to seek out Bernanos in the Brazilian hinterland where he'd been living with his wife and six children. Upon his return, his restless and urgent intelligence still finds an ardent cause to champion, a battle to wage against prevailing opinions as they emerge in the baleful symmetries of the looming Cold War. France's electoral majority is leftist, its working class is communist-leaning in the majority. This is a reaction formation to fascism but it also stems from the effective organizing role of the party in the French Resistance, which de Gaulle alone saved from being seen as a solely Communist insurgency. France's political class is in disarray and falling back into the impasses of parliamentary democracy, which had left it powerless in the face of fascist aggressions.

Bernanos does not have a program or a policy, but a dual warning against the menace of totalitarianism on the left, and of consumer capitalism, its twin, on the right. The aimless cycle of consumption and production is an abiding focus of his critique in La Liberte pour quoi faire, a richly rhetorical question that has to be translated as "Freedom to do what?" or "Freedom? For what?" Here he writes insistently on freedom as the heritage of Christian Europe (La Liberte, 13). He sees "la liberte" (the French, unlike us, have only one word for it, our two denoting its political and social dimensions) as threatened by a "machinized," mechanized society of which the atomic bomb is the epitome, the crowning achievement, and the crushing menace, "the machine to destroy all machines" in a civilization gone mad (La Liberte, 144, 150). He is decades ahead in formulating the U.S. military policy officially dubbed as MAD (mutually assured destruction).

Bernanos never visited the United States, but in reading him it seems at times that he has virtually dwelled among us. He projects a future in which we can perhaps discern our own present:
 The word civilization used to evoke the idea of security. We
 easily imagine the kind of security of a civilization forced to
 maintain against itself, at huge expense and at the price of what
 remains of its freedom, the prodigious network of espionage, in
 order to be warned at least five minutes in advance of its total
 destruction. Humanity is afraid of itself, afraid of its shadow,
 afraid of its hands on the table, afraid of the half-open drawer
 in which shines the well-oiled barrel of a Browning automatic.
 When humanity restricts little by little, willfully and
 inexorably, its hereditary portion of freedom, while affirming
 that it makes this sacrifice to its future happiness, do not
 believe it for an instant! It sacrifices its freedom to the fear
 it has of itself. ... But, at the same time it torments itself,
 learning to hate itself the more as the author responsible for its
 evils, its inventive genius multiplies the instruments of the
 techniques of destruction. This demented aspect of contemporary
 history evidently haunts everyone since the principle of this
 madness, alas! is in each one of us. (La Liberte, 176-77) (26)

Bernanos is defending freedom against what President Harry Truman declared--secretly--as the "national security state," and against what he terms repeatedly "the dictatorship of economics" in which the taxpayer replaces the citizen, monetary policy usurping moral imagination. A sense of oneself in terms of responsible moral agency has been surrendered to a self-image as "consumer and taxpayer," "consommateur et contribuable" (La Liberte, 93, 110).

This "septicemia" spreading throughout Europe is abetted by the rivalry of the twin power blocks, though it does not originate with them, nor with the fascist dictatorships they defeated. Bernanos takes a longer view: "The dictatorships were the symptoms of a universal evil, from which all humanity suffers. The civilization of machines has considerably reduced in man his sense of freedom" (La Liberte, 95). (27) An entire book of magnificent diatribes, his last, Les Francais contre les robots, is dedicated to this theme, as summarized by a sentence in La Liberte: "Machines save us time, but on the way to the scaffold it is a better idea, he says, to go on foot" (40).

Where he talks of machines and techniques, I think we need to envisage today all our technological gadgetry, the rampant digitalizing that our computers have spawned and that are the envy of the world and that are rapidly refashioning a global culture: "The civilization of machines was, at its beginnings, only a means of enrichment and of enjoyment, and the means is going to become, if it has not already, an end. ... There is in man a secret, incomprehensible hatred, not only of his fellow humans, but of himself" (La Liberte, 204). (28) The novels illumine this hatred, which is not so much in-comprehensible as tragically unnecessary, being a refusal of love, of "la grace," as posited at the conclusion of both Sous le Soleil de Satan and of Journal d'un cure de campagne. This is a leitmotif in the late writings of Dostoevsky. (29)

Thus Bernanos sees, or foresees, us in a kind of panicked rout, without direction or purpose, engaging in "la production sans limites pour la destruction sans mesure" (La Liberte, 163). Some of his last words on the saints that he addressed to a group of nuns in Tunisia express a concern for a diminished capacity for interiority:
 The faith which some of those among you profess not to know, it is
 in the saints. It fills their interior life, it is the interior
 life by which all men, rich and poor, ignorant and educated, can
 make contact with the divine, that is to say, with universal love,
 of which all of creation is only the inexhaustible outpouring.
 That interior life against which our inhuman civilization, with
 its delirious activity, its furious need of distraction and that
 abominable dissipation of degraded spiritual energies, by which
 the very substance of humanity is draining away. (La Liberte,
 229-30) (30)

"Distracted from distraction by distraction" wrote T.S. Eliot at the dawn of our consumer economy, which we now set up as a global model.

The writer's protest here rejoins more fundamentally that of Pascal in his critique of "le divertissement" (Pensees, No. 139). Bernanos projects some dire images of the outcome:
 Before we reach this imaginary paradise, this paradise of
 universal comfort for perfected animals, totalitarian man will die
 of thirst in crossing the spiritual desert where he will only have
 the blood of his fellow creatures to slake his thirst. They will
 drink the blood, they will lap up the blood like bitches, for
 having dried up the springs of living waters. They will die of
 thirst, they will munch the last scabs of a black blood, theirs
 ears glued to the ground, in an effort to hear the sound of waters
 under the earth while dying. (La Liberte, 169-70) (31)

Of course we do not wish to hear that our consumerism is self-destructively bloodthirsty, but that is why prophets are always a problem for us. Bernanos rarely quotes Scripture but his eloquence is shot through with the vigorous, fulminating imagery of Hebrew prophecy especially, where metaphors do not serve to ornament an idea, but serve as vehicles of interpretation. Jeremiah talks of "living waters" his people have forsaken (2:12), but Bernanos's words are more like a riff on later verses like these:
 Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, whose
 heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert,
 and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched
 places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. (Jer

The European Union recently drafted a constitution that pointedly excluded any reference to Christianity as its intellectual and moral heritage. Bernanos could, alas, see this coming. "Europe has lost confidence in itself," he states, "and without that confidence, there is no European spirit. The European spirit is the faith that Europe had in itself, in its destiny, in its universal mission" (La Liberte, 181). (32) In its own self-conception at least, France still symbolizes, if it no longer embodies, that universal civilizing mission. It is one that history has perhaps ceded to the United States, and we have to ask: What are we to do with it? The questions he posed to a group of Swiss journalists just sixty years ago remain before us: "You could just as well say: France, what's it for? And Switzerland, what for? What's it for, Europe? To summarize in a single word: humankind, what for?" (La Liberte, 83). (33)

These are still good questions, even if we do not agree with Bernanos's fideistic answers. As music is the most spiritual of the fine arts that humans cultivate, and most akin to that which he states we deny in ourselves, we do well to hearken to the choices scored by Francis Poulenc for the play Bernanos set in the Reign of Terror, in which la Soeur Blanche overcomes her fear of death, which is her fear of life, singing her way through the mob to join the other nuns on the scaffold in a hymn of active love and communal faith. In Bernanos's play, perhaps only one of the sisters at the very most survives long enough to see Blanche join their martyrs' procession to the guillotine. Her death saves no one, sustains no one in her faith, but she knows where she belongs. Point d'honneur.


(1.) Benjamin Stora, Histoire de la guerre d'Algerie: 1954-1962 (Paris: La Decouverte, 2004), 39.

(2.) Essais et ecrits de Combat II (Paris: Gallimard, "Pleiade," 1971-95), 554.

(3.) My translations of Bernanos are used throughout the text. The original text will appear in the endnotes. From the French, "Quiconque est capable de sacrifier la verite aux interets ou au prestige du clerge et des fideles-c'est-a-dire de 'mentir pour le bon motif' est un clerical. ..." La Grande Peur des bien-pensants (Paris: Livre de poche, 1969), 437-38.

(4.) Simon Weil, Attente de Dieu (Paris: Fayard, 1966), 96-97.

(5.) "La justice qui n'est pas selon le Christ, la justice sans amour, devient vite une bete enragee." La Liberte pour quoi faire (Paris: Gallimard, "Folio," 1995), 141.

(6.) "L'homme total, qui ne connait ni Dieu ni maitre, etant a soi seul sa propre fin,--l'affranchissement de l'homme, c'est-a-dire, de tous les instincts de l'homme, de l'animal humain divinise."

(7.) "Qu'est-ce que l'ordre social chretien, d'ailleurs, hors du plan de la Redemption?"

(8.) Les Grands cimetieres sous la lune (Paris: Livre de Poche, 1962), 159.

(9.) "Il exige du travail, du pain, et un honneur qui lui ressemble, aussi depouille que possible de tout raffinement psychologique, un honneur qui ressemble a son travail et a son pain."

(10.) "Ce genie de l'honneur que notre race a tellement surnaturalise qu'elle a failli en faire un moment comme un quatrieme vertu theologale--o nos peres, o nos morts! o cadavres cheris. ..." "Le Monde a besoin d'honneur. C'est l'honneur qui manque au Monde. Le Monde a tout ce qu'il lui fallu, et il ne jouit de rien parce qu'il manque d'honneur. Le Monde a perdu l'estime de soi. Or, aucun homme sense n'aura jamais l'idee sau-grenue d'apprendre les lois de l'honneur chez Nicolas Machiavel ou Lenine. Il me paraitrait aussi bete d'aller les demander aux Casuistes. L'Honneur est un absolu."

(11.) "Il est la fusion mysterieuse de l'honneur humain et de la charite du Christ."

(12.) "La religion de la Force mise au service de l'Etat totalitaire, de la dictature du Salut Public, consideree, non comme un moyen, mais comme une fin."

(13.) "Toutes les Terreurs se ressemblent, toutes se valent."

(14.) "Je comprends tres bien que l'esprit de Peur et l'esprit de Vengeance--mais ce dernier est-il autre chose que l'ultime manifestation de la Peur--inspirent la Contre-Revolution espagnole. Qu'un tel esprit l'ait inspiree, je ne m'en etonne nullement. Qu'il la nourrisse aussi longtemps, voila le probleme. J'ecris, en langage clair, que la Terreur aurait depuis longtemps epuise sa force si la complicite plus ou moins avouee des pretres et des fideles n'avait finalement reussi a lui donner un caractere religieux."

(15.) "Mais, parce qu'elle est en cause. C'est d'elle que je tiens tout, rien ne peut m'at-teindre que par elle. Le scandale qui me vient d'elle m'a blesse au vif de l'ame, a la racine de l'esperance."

(16.) Robert O. Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order (NY: Knopf, 1972), chap. 1.

(17.) "J'ecris comme je souffre et comme j'espere." Les Enfants humilies: Journal 1939-1940 (Paris: Gallimard, 1949), 161.

(18.) "Nous sommes des dupes, mais pour reprendre le mot atroce de Collot d'Herbois, implore en faveur de la petite marquise de Levis agee de dix-sept ans: "Il n'y a pas d'innocents parmi les aristocrates", j'affirme qu'il n'y a pas d'innocents parmi les dupes, qu'on ne saurait trouver de dupes totalement irresponsable de la duperie dont elle est a la fois, presque toujours, dupe et complice, qu'il y a un certain principe de duperie commmun au dupeur et au dupe, bref, que quiconque est dupe a en lui de quoi devenir dupeur a son tour. Oui, la dupe est ordinairement le parasite de celui qui le trompe, voila ce qu'il est bon de savoir ... cette duperie de soi-meme est sans doute, au bout du compte le mobile secret de leurs mensonges."

(19.) "Je crois que le mensonge est un parasite, le menteur un parasite, qui se gratte ou cela le demange ... nous ne sommes jamais surs qu'il ne trouvera pas en notre propre fonds un autre mensonge complice, a quoi il est par avance mysterieusement accorde, pour une abjecte fecondation. ... L'imposteur et l'imposture ne font qu'un, il y a une fatalite sous l'imposture. ... L'imposteur ne dispose pas de son imposture comme il lui plait, selon ses besoins ou sa fantaisie, toutes les impostures sont solidaires, je l'ai voulu demontrer jadis aux Excellences espagnoles, aux me-prisables superieurs des jesuites de Palma."

(20.) "On finit toujours par hair une verite volontairement meconnue, c'est la un des grands secrets de la vie, et c'est aussi celui de l'enfer eternal." Pascal, in Pensees, no. 100 (Brunschvicg ed.) writes: "We hate the truth and it is kept from us; we desire to be flattered and we are flattered; we like being deceived and we are deceived."

(21.) See Rene Girard, Resurrection from the Underground: Dostoevsky, trans. James G. Williams (New York: Crossroad, 1997).

(22.) "Pleine explosion du traditionnel humanisme francais. Pour un moment, pour un petit nombre de jours d'un ete radieux, la Liberte fut une et indivisible."

(23.) "L'egalite absolue devant la loi," and "L'autorite absolue et sans controle de l'Etat."

(24.) "La Revolution de 89 a ete la revolution de l'Homme, inspiree par la foi religieuse dans l'homme."

(25.) Rene Girard, Je vois Satan tomber comme un eclair (Paris: Grasset, 1999); Marcel Gauchet, Le Desenchantement du monde (Paris: Gallimard, 1985), and La Condition historique (Paris: Stock, 2003); Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (NY: Random House, 2005); Remi Brague, Europe, la voie romaine (Paris: Gallimard, "Folio," 2005).

(26.) "Le mot de civilisation evoquait jadis celui de securite. On imagine assez bien l'espece de securite d'une civilization forcee d'entretenir contre elle-meme, a frais immense et au prix de ce qui lui reste de liberte, ce prodigieux reseau d'espionnage, afin d'etre au moins prevenue cinq minutes a l'avance de son aneantissement total. ... L'humanite a peur d'elle-meme, peur de son ombre, peur de ses mains sur la table, peur du tiroir entreouvert ou brille doucement le canon bien huile du browning. Quand l'humanite restreint peu a peu, volontairement et comme inexorablement, sa part hereditaire de liberte, en affirmant qu'elle fait ce sacrifice a son bonheur futur, ne la croyez pas un instant! Elle sacrifie sa liberte a la peur qu'elle a d'elle meme. ... Mais, en meme temps qu'elle se torture ainsi elle-me-me, apprenant a mieux se hair comme l'auteur responsable de ses maux, son genie d'invention multiplie les instruments et les techniques de destruction. Cet aspect dementiel de l'histoire contemporaine hante evidemment tout le monde puisque le principe de cette folie, helas! est en chacun de nous."

(27.) "Les dictatures ont ete les symptomes d'un mal universel, dont souffre toute l'humanite. La civilisation des machines a considerablement amoindri dans l'homme le sens de la liberte."

(28.) "La civilisation des machines n'a ete, dans son principe, qu'un moyen d'enrichissemnt ou de joissance, et le moyen va devenir, s'il n'est deja devenue une fin. ... Il y a dans l'homme une haine secrete incomprehensible, non seulement de ses semblables, mais de lui-meme."

(29.) What Rene Girard writes of Dostoevsky's self-hating, self-tormenting characters applies to many of those in the world of Bernanos: "Everyone thinks that he alone is condemned to hell, and this is what makes it hell." Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure, trans. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965), 57.

(30.) "La foi que quelques-uns d'entre vous se plaignent de ne pas connaitre, elle est en eux [les saints], elle remplit leur vie interieure, elle est cette vie interieure par quoi tout homme, riche ou pauvre, ignorant ou savant, peut prendre contact avec le divin, c'est-a-dire avec l'amour universel, dont la creation toute entiere n'est que le jaillissement inepuisable. Cette vie interieure contre laquelle conspire notre civilisation inhumaine avec son activite delirante, son furieux besoin de distraction et cette abominable dissipation d'energies spirituelles degradees, par quoi s'ecoule la substance meme de l'humanite."

(31.) "Avant d'atteindre la paradis imaginaire, ce paradis du confort universel pour ani-maux perfectionnes, l'homme totalitaire sera mort de soif au cours de la traversee d'un desert spirituel ou il n'aura pour se desalterer que le sang de ses semblables. Ils boiront le sang, ils laperont le sang comme des chiennes, pour avoir tari les sources d'eaux vives. Ils mourront de soif, ils macheront les derniers caillots d'un sang noir, l'oreille collee au sol, afin d'essayer d'entendre en mourant le bruit des eaux sous la terre."

(32.) "Et sans cette confiance il n'y a pas d'esprit europeen. L'esprit europeen, c'est cette foi que l'Europe avait en elle-meme, en ses destinees, en sa mission universelle." This is commonplace in eighteenth-century Enlightenment thought, minus its Christian heritage. For an archeology and a fully up-to-date argument on the latter's unique transmission, see Brague, La Voie romaine.

(33.) "On dirait aussi bien: la France, pour quoi faire? Pourquoi faire, la Suisse? L'Europe, pourquoi faire? Et resumant tout d'un seul mot: l'homme, pour quoi faire?"
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Author:McKenna, Andrew J.
Publication:Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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