The Cold-War Christian Humanism of Francois Mauriac

By Bracher, Nathan | Christianity and Literature, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Cold-War Christian Humanism of Francois Mauriac


Bracher, Nathan, Christianity and Literature


One would be hard-pressed to find an era more inhospitable to either Christianity or humanism than that of the nascent Cold War in France, which severely tested affirmations of both perspectives. First, and doubtless most formidable, was the challenge of history. The devastating carnage of World War II and the Nazi genocide was stamped indelibly on the minds of all who had lived through the cataclysm. Humans had given a chilling demonstration of their capacity for destruction and, in the process, shattered eighteenth- and nineteenth-century notions of perfectibility through universal enlightenment, science, and technology. In the face of Auschwitz and Hiroshima, it seemed not only ingenuous but also indecent to affirm that humanity enjoyed some special dignity or unique status.

The stark political alternatives appearing at the outset of the Cold War in 1947 also fueled an intellectual hostility to Christianity and humanism. For the French literati, the postwar ideological fault lines were simply too wide and too deep for genteel musings in the Renaissance tradition of "humanities" or the twentieth-century aestheticism consecrated by Andre Gide and La Nouvelle Revue Francaise (Sirinelli 141-49, 153-60). France's crushing defeat and humiliating occupation by the Germans had definitively discredited the witty, eclectic, skeptical yet optimistic humanism so prominent in the prewar philosophy of Alain and in the plays of Jean Giraudoux. History had trumped aesthetics: from the staunchly communist Louis Aragon and Paul Eluard, to the fiercely independent (if fellow-traveling) Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and even to those such as Albert Camus and Jean Paulhan who sought to transcend bipolar ideology, writers found themselves penning vehement editorials and arguing over the fate of collaborators and the future of a planet dominated by the Soviet Union and the United States. Francois Mauriac was no exception in addressing all these issues.

Without serving as a standard-bearer for any political group or school of thought and without elaborating any general philosophy or ideological system, Mauriac nevertheless consistently articulated a Christian humanism in approaching a wide range of subjects. Amid the intellectual disarray of a world no longer rotating around the political, cultural, and economic axes of Europe, and much less France, he continued to place human beings at the forefront. In the face of unspeakable degradations by which humans had violated every recognized standard of moral behavior and profaned all notions of dignity and worth, Mauriac persisted in affirming the individual person as the locus of value, the basis of ethics, and the focus of knowledge. Confronting the uncompromising ideological and political rivalries taking shape not only in the Cold War but also in bloody colonial conflicts, he affirmed a common, universal humanity transcending ideological allegiances, national origins, and religious creeds.

Moreover, Mauriac grounded his universal humanism in Christianity. Tzvetan Todorov has recently maintained that Christianity proves to be incompatible with a humanist perspective because it values human thought, action, and love only to the extent that they serve as stepping stones to the divine (Devoirs 226). Taking the contrary view, I shall explain how Mauriac's Christianity not only is compatible with universal humanism but also structures his portrayal of humankind's predicament in the later 1940s and early 1950s.

After receiving the Nobel Prize for literature in 1952 largely on the basis of his psychological novels, Mauriac achieved even greater notoriety through a series of highly influential press articles known as the Bloc-notes (literally "notepad"), for which he is now widely recognized as France's most distinguished editorialist of the twentieth century. My focus here is the set of editorials from the dawn of the Cold War, edited and republished in 1999 by Jean Touzot.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Cold-War Christian Humanism of Francois Mauriac
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?