Front Page Titles (by Subject) Bergson\'s Political Doctrines - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1980, vol. 3, No. 2
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Bergson's Political Doctrines - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Summer 1980, vol. 3, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Bergson's Political Doctrines
“Bergson's Philosophy and French Political Doctrines: Sorel, Maurras, Péguy, and de Gaulle.” Government and Opposition 15(Winter 1980):75–91.
Having pondered the trauma of the First World War, Henri Bergson expressed his mature thought on moral and political issues in Les Deux sources de la morale et de la réligion. Significantly, however, Bergson's political doctrines have exerted a minor influence on social activists in comparison with his more purely philosophical teachings developed before the war. These philosophical hypotheses have exercised a varied and at times contradictory influence on four political figures in France.
Georges Sorel, spearhead of France's anarcho-syndicalist movement at the beginning of the century, made the explicit claim that he was applying Bergson's ideas to political action. Sorel's ideas in Réflexions sur la violence were immediately compared with Bergson's theories of life and vitality. In other writings, Sorel embraced Bergson's epistemological arguments. Nonetheless, Bergson himself recognized the many major points that separated him from Sorel. The latter's dogged insistence on elimination of the supposedly decadent middle class and his praise of violence as a moral and social tonic for France were but two of these major disagreements.
For Charles Maurras, leader of the fiercely nationalistic Action Française, Bergson represented an alien Romantic tradition which had undermined the rationality of French classicism and set France into woeful decline. Bergson's emphasis upon intuition and sentiment in the search for truth proved him a purveyor of “German pantheistic evolutionism.” The Action Francaise viewed Bergson as an intellectual débaucher who was not and never could be French. For Maurras, therefore, Bergson's philosophy abetted France's decay while for Sorel it presaged and nurtured the nation's rebirth.
Discontent with the dessicated postivism which France had inherited from the nineteenth century caused many French intellectuals to look upon religion and mystical idealism in a quite favorable light. A Catholic Renaissance ensued around 1910, and its most illustrious spokesman was the republican Charles Péguy. His poetic appeal to Frenchmen of differing political allegiances approximates Bergson's idea of creative politics through an intuitive synthesis of disparate views. An admirer of Bergson, Péguy concurred in the philosopher's firm rejection of the anti-Semitism which Daudet, Bernanos, and Drumont had made respectable among French conservatives.
Charles de Gaulle explicitly stated that his view of the grandeur of war was derived from Bergson. The philosopher had described the extreme difficulty the mind experiences when confronted by a fluid, unstable situation, which describes war in its purest state. The greatness of war stems from the heroic efforts which must be expended to comprehend and cope with a supremely unstable situation.
None of these persons or movements “applied” Bergson's philosophy definitively to political life. Bergson's diverse appeal derives from his “sometimes incongruous blend of political ideas. He combines individual freedom with criticism of social divisions and classes; he affirms the value of community and tradition, but encourages change and innovation in society. Finally, Bergson tries to reconcile man's need for religious and spiritual values with his achievements in technology and science.” It is not surprising that such a wealth of diverse ideas should give birth to a diverse breed of disciples.