Alain, Laval, Heidegger and the Jews: same fight?

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FIGAROVOX / READING - He was a master of thought: the publication of his diary, which reveals the anti-Semitic face of the philosopher Alain, has something of the twilight of an idol. With caution and in the interest of nuance, David Brunat delivers the reflections that come to him when he reads Michel Onfray's essay.

- Photo credits: The Observatory



David Brunat is a communications consultant and writer. He goes back on his reading of Michel Onfray's essay, Winter solstice. Alain, the Jews, Hitler and the Occupation (Observatory editions, March 2018).



Master of thought of the Third Republic, a mixture of Montaigne patell of radicalism and Virgil of the prairies feather quenched the open air of the countryside, the philosopher Emile Chartier, said Alain, embodied the sacred union of "common sense peasant" and of philosophical thought. His political blindness, dictated by an absolute pacifism born in the trenches of the Great War (where he fought with much heroism), his antisemitic mistakes, his vanity as a revered intellectual have long tarnished the image of the idol . The publication of his Newspaper unpublished 1937-1950 and the concomitant one of Michel Onfray's book, Winter solstice, Alain, The Jews, Hitler and the Occupation to the editions of the Observatoire, a vitriol - pleonasmal essay on the founder of the Popular University of Caen! - put down his reputation of kind wisdom.

"I hope the German will win, because the de Gaulle genre must not prevail at home". We swear that these words are Pierre Laval, who, in a famous speech on June 22, 1942, said he wished the victory of Germany. They were written by Alain in his Newspaper, two years earlier, July 22, the day after the defeat of France.

"We were wrong in 1939 to wage war. We were wrong in 1918, the day after the victory, not to organize a peace of understanding with Germany. Today we must try to do it. We must exhaust every means to find the basis of a definitive reconciliation. " Who, this statement? From Laval, always, in this same speech of infamy. But these remarks are not far from marrying the political convictions and the pacifist creed of Alain.

Still on July 22, 1940, this great reader of Stendhal, Dickens, Balzac, Spinoza, Plato, etc., expresses his admiration for Mein Kampf and for the way in which its author evokes the "Jewish question", with "extraordinary eloquence and remarkable sincerity". Alain praises in Hitler "a modern spirit, an invincible spirit". Elsewhere, he recalls treating some of his comrades in the Ecole Normale Supérieure as "dirty Jews", regrets the excessive moderation of the Vichy government vis-à-vis the Jews, or deplores the "bad style of Bergson", this admirable prose writer and accomplished writer who received the Nobel Prize for Literature without ever having written anything but philosophical works, which are so many jewels for the beauty of the language that unfolds there as for the clear depth of thought that 'expresses it. Not to mention charity-charity ordered ... to turn around his jacket when the wind began to turn, and to celebrate America after bowing to the Reich and his followers. Do not throw any more!

Born in 1970, I probably belong to the last generation who read Alain seriously, because he was still taught by our masters and his tight style, his musard spirit, his high culture and the moral of this moralist of good quality could be an excellent introduction to learning how to think. I still remember a work that a teacher in the third class had asked us from one of his Propos, and unintentionally comical variations of a comrade who had spoken about this thinker named "Alain Propos" (sic) who said such interesting things ... Then, like so many of my contemporaries, I read with passion Alain, to the point of imitating like Julien Gracq - the talent in less - his way of writing and seeing, and to hold his style for the quintessence of the beautiful French spirit (even though Alain's spirit is so devoid of that virtue of humor that also makes the French spirit), and also to take a little bit of everything that this matois grunt said for cash .

It's a bit like knowing that Spinoza had organized a slave trade, that Kant was a kleptomaniac or Hegel a pedophile.

His anti-Semitic exits were long known to specialists, as were his repeated errors of judgment during the war. Nevertheless, for the general public who knew nothing of his Newspaper novelto discover these pages, which are so inimical to the image we had of this great professor, in all respects, of this remarkable intellectual awakener so much admired by his pupils, it is a little as if one learned that Spinoza had organized a slave trade, whether Kant was a kleptomaniac or Hegel a pedophile. A shock. A sickening disappointment. The feeling of having been deceived by an affable and benevolent guardian, by a scout who would have been given the good God of philosophers without confession.

And yet, warnings about the "dark side", the lack of foresight, and the potentially deleterious intellectual and political ascendancy of the one who thought he was an extralucid had started early. Onfray drives the nail and closes the file, but in 1951, at the death of Alain, Jean-Toussaint Desanti published a resounding article under the program: Alain, professor of cowardice. Even better, his former student Raymond Aron wrote in September 1941 in Free France : "Alain has trained generations of young Frenchmen in sterile hostility to the state, in an almost voluntary ignorance of the dangers that threatened the nation ... He has fertilized a kind of voluntary blindness (...), a sort of grandiose semi-absurdity intentional. "

It is then that one can not help thinking, by reading the book of Onfray, Martin Heidegger. The publication of Unpublished newspaper Alain plays the same role, irrespective of their respective thurifiers, as that of the Black notebooks for the mage of the Black Forest in 2014: a fatal blow to the reputation of wisdom, measurement and absence of "sad passions", and the legend of a "soft" and fleeting anti-Semitism.

Beyond the abyssal differences - of thought, of life, of style, etc. Between these two philosophers, how can we not detect disturbing analogies? The same admiration for Hitler. A complete absence of regrets and remorse after the war about their past commitments or convictions. An absolute silence on the Holocaust. The same bad faith of their respective "fans", shouting loudly as soon as they dare to touch a hair of their idol. And also, and most importantly, a guru status and an immense fascination (sometimes mingled with suspicion, it is true) exerted by these two intellectuals of high stature on their pupils or disciples of Jewish origin: Hannah Arendt, Hermann Cohen, Martin Buber , Karl Löwith, Herbert Marcuse, Derrida, etc. for Heidegger; Simone Weil, Raymond Aron (who, as we have seen, quickly distanced himself), André Maurois, Michel Alexandre, etc. for Alain.

Member of the NSDAP until 1945, Heidegger committed no less, according to his rich extra-marital life punctuated with good fortune with Jewish students (Hannah Arendt, Elisabeth Blochmann ...) number of "crimes against race", a capital sin in Nazi ideology. As for Alain, an enraged antisemite, he held in very high esteem Simone Weil, who, in return, and although engaged in the Resistance in defiance of the capitulary inclinations of his former teacher of khagne, expressed to him until his death in 1943 a lively admiration, to the point of entrusting him in a letter dated May 1941 to have "an extremely clear consciousness of all that I owe you" - which does not constitute a slight tribute.

If we want to continue to read Alain and to make it read to our children, it is better to refrain from asking certain questions ...

Onfray shows in his book the dead ends of radical pacifism, which led many of his supporters to collaborate during the war. Before professing his admiration for Hitler, was not Alain one of the founders of the committee of vigilance of anti-fascist intellectuals? A committee that finally exploded in full flight in 1936 when supporters of firmness against the Fuhrer slammed the door. CVIA members included Victor Basch, President of the League of Human Rights since 1926. Killed in January 1944 with his wife by the Militia, near Lyon. And I would like to quote another "Unpublished Journal", no more intended to be published than that of Alain, held by an "anonymous" and who intended to remain so, but which shows if it was necessary that all Intimate diaries of this black period are not alike. It is that of my paternal grandfather, Dr. William Brunat, Lyon doctor and friend of the Basch couple. He wrote on January 13, 1944:

"I am going to the Forensic Institute. In a quarry at Neyron, the corpses of two old men shot were found. Mazel (Editor's note: Pierre Mazel, professor at the Faculty of Medicine of Lyon and creator in 1930 of the University Institute of Occupational Medicine) thinks it is Victor Basch and his wife. He knows that I am caring for them and asks me to identify them. It is these two poor old people: she is completely deaf and almost blind. I went to see them in St. Clair 4 days ago and Victor B spoke to me passionately about the last years of the Republic. And now these two corpses naked on the autopsy table. I would have cried. "

Alain cried on the death of Basch, one of his former companions in arms CVIA and the academic world (he was professor of aesthetics at the Sorbonne), and the disappearance of republican ideals dear to his philosopher's heart "right middle"? And if he lived today, what would be his attitude to the terrorist threat, for example? Would he be inclined to pact, to compose, to finish, to hide his eyes, in a good-looking Munich, or, on the contrary, would he be in favor of a policy of firmness? Impossible to say, of course. And maybe it's better that way. If we want to continue to read Alain and to make it read to our children, it is better to refrain from asking certain questions ...



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