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C O U R S E 
The Great War and Modern Philosophy
Nicolas de Warren, KU Leuven University
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
Henri Bergson on WWI Germany and France
Notes taken on July 31, 2016 by Edward Tanguay
Henri Bergson
French philosopher
by WWI had achieved an unparalleled reputation
1914, election to the Académie française
his lectures at the Collège de France were wildly popular, especially with women
exhibited clarity of insight, controlled form of prose, and lucidity
a person who was entirely dedicated to the life of the mind
during Dreyfus Affair, remained aloof and distant from public debates
but at the outbreak of WWI, immediately supported the French war effort
produced speeches and texts meant to embolden and bolster French soldiers and the population
the paradox of whether it is possible to both remain a philosopher and think through the historical moment while at the same time attempting to act upon it
gives a certain vigorous vitality to his wartime engagement as the premier philosopher of the French nation
Bergson's November text
dramatic opening statement
sets a defiant, confident tone
"This issue of struggle is not doubtful: Germany will succumb."
establishes himself as the moral conscience of the nation and as a font of philosophical wisdom
soldiers would be exalted in the sense that the knowledge of the future is certain
he is the moral conscience of the nation with an official institution of propaganda directly meant for soldiers
to assemble and unit the 'union sacrée'
he avoids using the word war, "guerre" but speaks instead of struggle, i.e. lutte
this quiet displacement of one term for another linguistically anchors and signals a complex operation
suspends any political or economic conception
anchors a metaphysical conception of the war
a class between two forms of life
France is in a sacred mission to defend the primacy of life, values of justice and freedom against the aggressiveness of German destructiveness and militarism
backwashing of metaphysics through political meaning
apparent in Bergson's philosophical assessment of what is at stake between Germany and France
Bergson mobilizes his own philosophical categories in order to arrive at philosophical portraits of the German and the French
largely drawn from his 1907 work, "Creative Evolution"
a distinction between life as renewal, as creativity, as spontaneity, and freedom
as opposed to mechanism, atomization, and the inertness of death
has a rich intellectual history, a deep philosophical tradition
represents militarism, modern bureaucracy and mechanization
argues that Germany has become militarized through Prussian influence
speaks of Bismarck as the Evil Genius
what is it to be German
a form of life that is fundamental attached not to creativity but to death and destruction
reflected in the organization of the German spirit as bent on mechanization, atomization, that the German military is a machine
as opposed to the French army which is tied to ideals of courage, spontaneity, vitality, freedom and justice
so the war is not an antagonism or a duel between two wills, as Clausewitz understood it, but existentially an antagonism between two forms of life
and what is pitted against each other is nothing less than life and death
thus demanding the ultimate sacrifice from the French nation to preserve justice, freedom, life and spontaneity
by completely destroying the German nemesis
"But the energy of our soldiers is drawn from something which does not waste, from an ideal of justice and freedom. Time has no hold us. To the force which feeds only on its own brutality, we are opposing that which seeks, outside and above itself, a principle of life and renovation. While the one is gradually spending itself, the other is continually remaking itself. The one is already wavering; the other abides, unshaken. Have no fear; our foe will be slayed."