A. O. Lovejoy (essay date 1916)
SOURCE: A review of "Reflections on Violence", by Georges Sorel, in The American Political Science Review, Vol. X, No. 1, February, 1916, pp. 193-95.
[In the following excerpted review of Sorel's Reflections on Violence, Lovejoy identifies key differentiators between Sorel's socialist concepts and traditional socialist theories.]
Whatever the future of revolutionary syndicalism in Europe, the movement will at least continue to have interest for the historian as a type of social agitation, based upon novel and distinctive theories, which had attained somewhat formidable proportions at the moment when "le régime bourgeois" eventuated in an outbreak of "violence" more atrocious and more widespread than any of which the syndicalist had dreamed. An English version of [Reflections on Violence] the principal book of the chief philosopher of the movement is therefore to be welcomed. The translation, it may be said at once, is clear and idiomatic, and for the most part accurate. There are occasional errors, such as the rendering of moeurs by "customs" (29, 44, 57), and of cléricaux by "clergy" (249). This last makes nonsense of the passage in which it occurs. "Worthy progressives" is an overtranslation of braves gens.
To be rightly understood the book needs to be read backwards. For it is concerned with two questions, that of the ends to be accomplished by the social revolution, and that of the means by which it can be effectually brought about. The latter question is discussed first and at much greater length; but the spirit of this discussion, and the main premises of it, are sure to be missed by readers who do not bear in mind the ethical ideal of the syndicalist revolution, as set forth in the concluding chapter on la morale des producteurs. It is primarily, though not solely, Sorel's conception of the ends to be accomplished, that prescribes the choice of those means to which he gives the sensational and partially misleading name of "violence."
The moral ideals which inspire Sorel are highly dissimilar to those which have animated most of the older Socialism. His hostility to the existing régime is not chiefly due to a demand for justice in the distribution of the produce of industry, nor to a humanitarian sympathy with the victims of capitalistic 'exploitation,' nor to a sense of the waste and disorder involved in the competitive system. The morale des producteurs is a sort of 'gospel of work.' Its ideal will be realized only when productive industry is freely and joyously carried...
(The entire section is 1075 words.)