Page:Georges Sorel, Reflections On Violence (1915).djvu/40

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REFLECTIONS ON VIOLENCE

submitted to the Holy See, Renan sides with the second, because, according to him, the scientist need not bring anything to support his discoveries beyond good arguments. He considered that the Italian philosopher wished to supplement his inadequate proofs by his sacrifice, and he puts forward this scornful maxim: "A man suffers martyrdom only for the sake of things about which he is not certain."[1] Renan here confuses conviction, which must have been very powerful in Bruno's case, with that particular kind of certitude about the accepted theories of science, which instruction ultimately produces; it would be difficult to give a more misleading idea of the forces which really move men.

The whole of this philosophy can be summed up in the following phrase of Renan's: "Human affairs are always an approximation lacking gravity and precision"; and as a matter of fact, for an intellectualist, what lacks precision must also lack gravity. But in Renan the conscientious historian was never entirely asleep, and he at once adds as a corrective: "To have realised this truth is a great result obtained by philosophy; but it is an abdication of any active role. The future lies in the hands of those who are not disillusioned."[2] From this we may conclude that the intellectualist philosophy is entirely unable to explain the great movements of history.

The intellectualist philosophy would have vainly endeavoured to convince the ardent Catholics, who for

  1. Renan, Nouvelles Études d'histoire religieuse, p. vii. Previously he had said, speaking of the persecutions: "People die for opinions, and not for certitudes, because they believe and not because they know … whenever beliefs are in question the greatest testimony and the most efficacious demonstration is to die for them" (L'Église chrétienne, p. 317). This thesis presupposes that martyrdom is a kind of ordeal, which was partly true in the Roman epoch, by reason of certain special circumstances (G. Sorel, Le Système historique de Renan, p. 335).
  2. Renan, Histoire du peuple d'Israël, vol. iii. p. 497.