Academic journal article European Studies

Paris 1933 a 'Société Des Esprits' Chaired by Paul Valéry

Academic journal article European Studies

Paris 1933 a 'Société Des Esprits' Chaired by Paul Valéry

Article excerpt


Paris 1933. Some months after the coming to power of the Nazis a company of distinguished European intellectuals gathered in the French capital for a three-day conference (16-18 October) on the future of the European mind (L'avenir de l'esprit europ?en). These intellectuals, mostly writers and academics, came from all over Europe: many were from France, others from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Hungary, Romania, the Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland.1 The conference was organised by the International Institute for Intellectual Cooperation (IICI), a League of Nations organisation, which was located in the Palais-Royal, where the conference also took place. The reason for this conference and the sense of urgency of the event, are clearly expressed in the inauguration speeches of Emile Borel (organisation committee), Paul Val?ry (chairman) and Anatole de Monzie (Minister of National Education). In the proceedings of the conference we read:

Dans leurs discours d'inauguration, M.M. Emile Borel, Paul Val?ry et Anatole de Monzie ont rappel? l'objet de l'Entretien. M. Borel (?) a montr? que dans les circonstances actuelles, la meilleure m?thode ?tait de demander ? quelques hommes d'?lite de confronter leurs vues sur l'avenir de l'esprit europ?en. M. Val?ry (?) a soulign? les difficult?s de l'entreprise en insistant sur ?ce qu'on pourrait appeler la sensibilit? ou l?irritabilit? de certaines questions'. M. De Monzie enfin (...) a mis en ?vidence la n?cessit? ?de r?tablir le contact entre les forces purement spirituelles et les forces naturelles [non spirituelles] qui, de temps en temps, r?clament leur place et leur r?le dans la vie des soci?t?s' (IICI 1934, 6).

The aim of this article is to discover whether the congress was successful, if its objectives were achieved and if the European elite was indeed able to formulate some clear answers regarding the actual threats to Europe. But it also aims to find out - as anticipated in Val?ry's words - if there were controversial points in the discussion, making the conference a more difficult undertaking. In the words of this volume: can the conference be seen as a successful example of ?intellectual exchange', of sharing ideas and re-thinking the problems of Europe?

Surprisingly enough, until now, little research has been done on these Paris debates. Michael Renoliet summarized several League of Nations conferences in his study on intellectual cooperation after the First World War but provided no extensive analysis on the Paris conference (Renoliet 1999). In a recently published article Michel Jarrety discusses some of the leading ideas, without going into the details of the Paris debates (Jarrety 2011). The intention of this article is to describe, as precisely as possible, the opinions that were put forward in Paris at that time, as well as in the conferences that preceded Paris, in Frankfurt and Madrid, to clarify which ideas were shared by the intellectuals, and also which caused dissention among them.

From Geneva to Paris

To understand the Paris conference, the origins of the organisation that made Paris possible must first be considered, that is, the League of Nations, although in reality it was just one country that was responsible for the whole event; its organisation, venue and financing, as well as the publication of its proceedings: France, under the leadership of Éduard Herriot's 'Cartel des Gauches'.

Remarkably, the League of Nations, when this international organisation was formed in 1919, gave no attention at all to intellectual activities. The promotion of international peace and security was a political, economic, and legal affair, not an intellectual one, is to be deduced from the Covenant. Nevertheless, according to many of the leading internationalists of the day, the League could never succeed in its aims without the inclusion of intellectual cooperation. Therefore, in 1921, after a League of Nations resolution on the subject had been passed, an International Commission for Intellectual Cooperation (CICI) was founded. …

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