Philosophe Alain

Le site de référence sur le philosophe français Emile Chartier, dit Alain (1868-1951), par l’Association des Amis d’Alain, fondée par ses proches après sa mort.

Le site de référence sur le philosophe français Emile Chartier, dit Alain (1868-1951), par l’Association des Amis d’Alain, fondée par ses proches après sa mort.

Christmas Night

Christmas night is an invitation to overcome something, because this festival is certainly not a festival of resignation. All the lights on the evergreen tree defy the night that now reigns over the earth; and the child in the crib represents our renewed hope. Fate is vanquished – and fate is like a night cast over our thoughts because it’s impossible for us to think under the idea that everything, even our own thoughts, is predetermined; in that case it’s better to think of nothing and play cards.

The old social order erased time; a child copied the gestures of its father; priest or potter; he was already what he would be; he knew that and nothing else; heredity was a social law before entering our thoughts. But knowledge that just begins over again is not knowledge. Thought reforms, or it is extinguished; as we can see with actions performed mechanically in the dark, and disturbed when the light is switched on. Everything that happened, in this sleep of the human species, was already experienced, known and routine, war, famine, or plague; all of this was expected; children were born old. When the East teaches us that salvation extinguishes thought, it only teaches what used to be the case.


Raphael, la Madone de Lorette


Appearances are powerful, because a child imitates. The clothing and tools that go with his caste direct his movements closely, and his thoughts too, along with his movements. Opinions and institutions work together to persuade him. From the point of view of politeness, all thought is scandalous; it is the old who know; do you hope to do any better? It’s a law no longer written down, but still powerful. What is childlike in any idea is so promptly scorned by the old that we see the young, after an astonishing start, soon begging the pardon of all the bearded and bald gods and making themselves old before their time; which is the affectation of young politicians.

The great night of Christmas, on the contrary, invites us to adore childhood; childhood in itself and childhood within us. It denies any stain, any imprint, and any fate in this new body, which is to place the god above the gods. That is not easy to believe, I admit; if a child merely believes the contrary, he will give evidence of the contrary; he will be marked with heredity like a tattoo. This is why we have to resolve to try the other idea, which is to adore him. Have faith, and the proof will come. It was proven that we could not do without slaves, but slavery itself was the evidence; and war is the only proof against peace. Inequality and injustice prove themselves by the fact and justify themselves by the fact; because force reigns, the result is that people must defend themselves, and so force reigns. But this is a circle of institutions and customs from which it follows, properly speaking, there is no thought; to think is to refuse. I never read a public speech without admiring these thoughts without a thinker, these thoughts of a bee, buzzing away. « So we are always beginning again? » said Socrates, that childish old man. But old men think according to their status symbols, and the young put on old airs in order to earn those status symbols; because the old faith turns people away from using their willpower. But the new faith commands us first of all to use our will, and so to hope, since one doesn’t go without the other. These centuries of old age have actually aged without ever ceasing to accuse themselves in the myth of Christmas. Beauty spoke better than truth; and the treasures of the Magi are wasted in condemning the Magi; which marks the end of the ancient world. The child has nothing; the child is enough. Since beauty signifies something, this is the meaning of this beautiful image, the Magi kings, weighed down by their symbols, adoring the naked child.


English translation copyright © Michel Petheram

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