196: RED CHRISTIANS #19: Charles Peguy

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France has always had a strong tradition of christian socialism. One of its most influential figures was Charles Péguy. (1873-1914)

Charles Peguy

In the words of Gramsci “the most obvious characteristic of Péguy’s personality is religiosity, the intense faith…His books are all full of this mysticism inspired by the most pure and persuasive enthusiasm, which takes the form of a  very personal prose, of bilical intonation. We become drunk with that mystical religious feeling of socialism, of justice that pervades everything. We feel in our selves a new life, a stronger faith beyond the ordinary and miserable polemics of the small and vulgarly materialist politicians.”
Péguy became a Catholic in 1907, though he never joined the church and he didn’t have his children baptized. Few socialist authors have developed a more thorough, radical and vitriolic critique of modern bourgeois society, the spirit  of capitalist accumulation, and the impersonal logic of money than him.

He was a socialist idealist, and a very individualistic one, full of contradictions. He believed that extreme collectivism or anarchist communism would lead to the freedom of the human spirit. The philosopher who influenced him most was Henri Bergson, especially his theories of time and memory. Péguy wrote “Les Cahiers de la Quinzaine” magazine for many years so that he could preach his vision of social and moral reform. He advocated the spiritual and cultural values of the ‘Old France’ which he felt were threatened by materialism, positivism and right-wing Catholics, and he was rather obsessed with Joan of Arc. He saw the agents of change in society as being not the industrial urban workers but the peasantry. He said that ” Jesus was essentially the God of the poor, of the suffering and of the workers.” His acquaintances included Jacques Maritain, and Georges Sorel.

Although he was killed in the battle of the Marne in 1914, his patriotic nationalist poetry was still being quoted by French politicians in the second world war.

He is the founder of a specifically French tradition of progressive Christian anti-capitalism (mainly Catholic, but occasionally ecumenical), which unfolded during the 20th century. It included Emmanuel Mounier and his ‘Esprit’ group; the small movement of Revolutionary Christians at the time of the Popular front; the anti-fascist resistance group Témoignage Chrétien during World War II; the Worker Priests during the 1940s and 50s; as well as assorted labour, youth and religious groups.

Related Zingcreed Posts:
Temoignage Chretien

(i) Löwy, M. “The war of Gods. Liberation theology in Latin America” Verso (1999?)
(ii) http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi


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