- May 19, 2014
Professor Camille Riquier of the Institut catholique de Paris gave a series of six classes. The classes on this occasion introduced the thought of Charles Péguy (1873-1914). (For the published results of Professor Riquier's research on Péguy, see: « Métaphysique de l'événement. Péguy et le problème de l'insertion (Metaphysics of event. Péguy and the problem of insertion) », in Métaphysiques des possessions (Metaphysical possessions), D. Debaise (ed.), Paris, Presses du Réel, 2011).
Charles Péguy was born in Orléans, France, famous as the birthplace of Jeanne d'Arc (1412-1431). Today, Péguy is better known as a poet and socialist of the latter half of the 19th century than as a philosopher. In particular, however, during his student days in Paris, Péguy studied under Henri Bergson (1859-1941), praising the progress of technology and industry whilst making sharp criticism of modern era society in its single-minded pursuit of external wealth. His consciousness of issues was based on his witnessing of the plight of those suffering poverty or hard labour, and steered towards the internality of the masses which form society, rather than simply towards political theory or social structure. In other words, it was Péguy's vocation to call upon the internal spiritual lives of each and every person in revolutionizing the existing society that was hollow and debauched as a result of the pursuit of profit. It is here we can detect the decisive influence of Bergson. For example, in the work of his late years, Notre jeunesse (Our youth; 1910), we find « Tout commence en mystique et finit en politique (Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics) ». Furthermore, the spiritual aspect emphasised by Péguy can be transformed by the principle that relieves individuals of the burden of suffering, and that ties to a Christian view of the world prior to its secularisation. Alongside Bergson, we must also recognise here the influence upon Péguy of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). Pascal, born in France two centuries earlier than the era of Péguy, sought the road to salvation through the perspective of human spiritualism and morals - as a devout Christian himself - and having seen the anguish of people living in society. In reality, Péguy spent his life trying to grasp Pascal's ideology. For example, in Pensées (Thoughts; 1670), Pascal saw the world in Les trois ordres (three orders), which he identified as l'ordre du corps (the order of the flesh), above which came l'ordre de l'esprit (the order of the mind), and in the highest position, l'ordre de la charité (the order of charity). Similarly, Péguy believed that material well-being could not surpass the dimension of spirituality, and that in turn was inferior to the love needed to bring about the salvation of others as carried out by Jesus Christ; without this order all social behaviour was meaningless. These two individuals thus sought the true meaning of life, yet Pascal passed away at the age of 39, and Péguy at 41 - Péguy, in action during the First World War. I was surprised at what had been achieved in their short lives.