Chapter 9: Faith in Peace
I am no politician and still less a prophet. Like the rest of us I am anxiously following the proceedings at the Peace Conference, this poignant spectacle of the two halves of Mankind wrangling incessantly over points of detail but making no fundamental contact because they approach everything from different angles. How will it all turn out? I do not know.
But I am, if I may be allowed the term, a ‘geo-biologist’, and I have looked hard and long at the face of Mother Earth. I feel and I am convinced of one thing: that nothing is more dangerous for the future of the world, nothing moreover less warranted in Nature, than the affected resignation and false realism with which in these days a great number of people, hunching their shoulders and drawing in their heads, predict (and in so doing tend to provoke) a further catastrophe in the near future. More than all the remnants of hatred lingering between nations, this terror of inevitable war, which sees no cure for warfare except in even greater terror, is responsible for poisoning the air we breathe. That is why, humbly and devoutly echoing a divine utterance, I feel the need to cry to those around me, ‘What do ye fear, O men of little faith?’ Do you not see that the peace which you no longer dare to hope for (when you do not actually scorn it as a myth) is possible and indeed certain, provided you will grasp what the word ‘peace’ means and what it requires of you? Let me beg you to rise for a moment above the dust and smoke obscuring the horizon and gaze with me at the course of the world.
In the first place I maintain that peace -- I mean, some form of universal and stable peace -- is possible in human terms. Why should it not be? Of course we can easily pile up arguments and evidence to refute this hopeful view. Historically, there have always been wars, and they have grown more harsh: therefore there will continue to be war till the end of time. Morally, man is evil, and becoming more so as he grows more civilized: what grounds have we for hoping that he will improve? And scientifically, since what characterizes the development of the animal species from its beginning is the struggle for life, how can we expect, mere humans that we are, to escape from this essential biological condition without which there can be neither growth nor progress? I am well aware of the many reasons for skepticism, which as a geo-biologist I have pondered as much as anyone. But I must say frankly that none of them impresses me, because to my mind all are neutralized and finally annulled by a fact of higher importance to which, I do not know why, sociologists seem to pay no attention. I mean the particular and unique structure of the zoological group to which we belong. Until the coming of Man the branches or shoots composing the different living species tended inexorably to diverge and spread ever more widely apart as they developed. With Man, on the other hand, owing to the grand psychological phenomenon of Reflection, the branches of his species follow an entirely different course. Instead of separating and detaching themselves from one another they turn inwards and presently intertwine, so that by degrees, races, peoples, nations merging together, they come to form a sort of uni-conscious super-organism. To eyes that can see, this is what is now happening. And having noted this profound change in the evolutionary process at the human level, how can we fail to see that it changes the whole nature of the problem, so that, in seeking to forecast the development of human society in this matter of war and peace, we cannot simply project the history of the animal world into the future, or even that of the first hundred or two hundred millennia of our own species? Biologically speaking, what has hitherto driven living creatures to mutual destruction has clearly been the necessity which impelled them to supplant one another in order to survive. But why should their survival depend upon their supplanting one another, except for the reason that they existed independently of one another? Ultimately and fundamentally it is the divergence of the living shoots, operating from the highest level down to the family and the individuals composing the family, which has always been the cause of human conflict. But suppose, on the contrary (this is the entirely new development in the case of the human race) that the outspreading and unfolding of forms gradually gives way to a process of in-folding. Then the previous economy of Nature undergoes a radical change: for converging branches do not survive by eliminating each other; they have to unite. Everything that formerly made for war now makes for peace, and the zoological laws of conservation and survival must wear an opposite sign if they are to be applied to Man. The whole phenomenon has been reversed. This may well account for the terrible upheavals we have undergone; not an irresistible increase in the tide of war, but simply a clash of currents: the old disruptive surface forces driving against a merging in the depths which is already taking place. Why not, after all?
It is hard to escape the conclusion, looking at things iii this way, that despite all appearances to thc contrary Mankind is not only capable of living in peace but by its very structure cannot fail eventually to achieve peace. Here, of course, we encounter the formidable element of human freedom of action, of which it is endlessly repeated that its unpredictable interference with the established proceedings of Nature threatens constantly to disrupt and frustrate them. But we need to be clear about this. No doubt it is true that up to a point we are free as individuals to resist the trends and demands of Life. But does this mean (it is a very different matter) that we can escape collectively from the fundamental set of the tide? I do not think so. When I consider the inexorable nature of the universal impulse which for more than six hundred million years has ceaselessly promoted the global rise of consciousness on the earth’s surface, driving on through an endlessly multiplying network of opposing hazards; when I reflect upon the irresistible forces (geographical, ethnic, economic and psychic) whose combined effect is to thrust the human mass ever more tightly in upon itself; when finally, on the occasion of some great act of human collaboration or devotion, I perceive as though in a lightning-flash the prodigious, still-slumbering affinity which draws the ‘thinking molecules’ of the world together -- wherever I look I am forced to the same conclusion: that the earth is more likely to stop turning than is Mankind, as a whole, likely to stop organizing and unifying itself. For if this interior movement were to stop, it is the Universe itself, embodied in Man, that would fail to curve inwards and achieve totalization. And nothing, as it seems, can prevent the universe from succeeding -- nothing, not even our human liberties, whose essential tendency to union may fail in detail but cannot (without ‘cosmic contradiction) err ‘statistically’. According to whether one looks at it from the point of view of the isolated unit or in terms of all units taken together, the human synthesis, that is to say, Peace, shows us two complementary faces (like so many other things in this world): first a steep slope, only to be climbed by constant effort in the face of many setbacks; and ultimately the point of balance to which the whole system must inevitably come.
Peace therefore is certain: it is only a matter of time. Inevitably, with an inevitability which is nothing but the supreme expression of liberty, we are moving laboriously and self-critically towards it. But what exactly do we mean by this -- what kind of peace? Only a peace, it is perfectly clear, which will allow, express and correspond to what I have called the vital in-folding of Mankind upon itself. A sustained state of growing convergence and concentration, a great organized endeavor: if it is not that kind of peace, then what I have been saying is worthless and we are back with our uncertainties. This means that all hope of bourgeois tranquillity, the dreams of ‘millenary’ felicity in which we may be tempted to indulge, must be washed out, eliminated from our horizon. A perfectly-ordered society with everyone living in effortless ease within a fixed framework, a world in a state of tranquil repose, all this has nothing to do with our advancing Universe, apart from the fact that it would rapidly induce a state of deadly tedium. Although, as I believe, concord must of necessity eventually prevail on earth, it can by our premises only take the form of some sort of tense cohesion pervaded and inspired with the same energies, now become harmonious, which were previously wasted in bloodshed: unanimity in search and conquest, sustained among us by the universal resolve to raise ourselves upwards, all straining shoulder to shoulder, towards ever greater heights of consciousness and freedom. In short, true peace, the only kind that is biologically possible, betokens neither the ending nor the reverse of warfare, but war in a naturally sublimated form. It reflects and corresponds to the normal state of Mankind become at last alive to the possibilities and demands of its evolution.
And here a last question arises, bringing us to the heart of the problem. Why is it, finally, that men are still so painfully incapable of agreeing among themselves; why does the threat of war still appear so menacing? Is it not because they have still not purged themselves sufficiently of the demon of immobilism? Is not the underlying antagonism which separates them at the conference tables quite simply the eternal conflict between motion and inertia, the cleavage between one part of the world that moves and another that does not seek to advance? Let us not forget that faith in peace is not possible, not justifiable, except in a world dominated by faith in the future, faith in Man and the progress of Man. By this token, so long as we are not all of one mind, and with a sufficient degree of ardor, it will be useless for us to seek to draw together and unite. We shall only fail.
That is why, when I look for reassurance as to our future, I do not turn to official utterances, or ‘pacifist’ manifestations, or conscientious objectors. I turn instinctively towards the ever more numerous institutions and associations of men where in the search for knowledge a new spirit is silently taking shape around us -- the soul of Mankind resolved at all costs to achieve, in its total integrity, the uttermost fulfillment of its powers and its destiny.
Cahiers du Monde Nouveau, January 1947.