Page:Georges Sorel, Reflections On Violence (1915).djvu/21

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7
LETTER TO DANIEL HALEVY

repeat formulas and enslave their own thought in the disputes of the schools.

I

My Reflections on Violence have irritated many people on account of the pessimistic conception on which the whole of the study rests; but I know that you do not share this impression; you have brilliantly shown in your Histoire de quatre ans that you despise the deceptive hopes with which the weak solace themselves. We can then talk pessimism freely to each other, and I am happy to have a correspondent who does not revolt against a doctrine without which nothing very great has been accomplished in this world. I have felt for some time that Greek philosophy did not produce any great moral result, simply because it was, as a rule, very optimistic. Socrates was at times optimistic to an almost unbearable degree.

The aversion of most of our contemporaries from every pessimistic conception is doubtless derived, to a great extent, from our system of education. The Jesuits, who created nearly everything that the University still continues to teach, were optimists because they had to combat the pessimism which dominated Protestant theories, and because they popularised the ideas of the Renaissance; the Renaissance interpreted antiquity by means of the philosophers, and consequently misunderstood the masterpieces of tragic art so completely that our contemporaries have had considerable difficulty in rediscovering their pessimistic significance.[1]

  1. "The significant melancholy found in the masterpieces of Hellenic art prove that, even at that time, gifted individuals were able to peer through the illusions of life to which the spirit of their own surrendered itself without the slightest critical reflection " (Hartmann, The Philosophy of the Unconscious, Eng. trans., vol. iii. p. 78 ; ii. p. 436).

    I call attention to this view, which sees in the genius of the great Greeks a historical anticipation; few doctrines are more important for an understanding of history than that of anticipations, which Newman used in his researches on the history of dogmas.