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.

Red mules

[‘Mean as a red mule’ – old French expression. (translator’s note)]

Doubt is the salt of the mind; without the prick of doubt, all knowledge soon goes bad. I mean also the knowledge that is the best established and considered most reasonable. To doubt when you notice you’ve made a mistake or have been deceived is not difficult; I would even say that this hardly advances us at all; this forced doubt is like an assault committed upon us; it’s also a sad doubt; a doubt of weakness; a regret for believing and having your trust deceived. The truth is that we should never believe but must always examine. Incredulity has not been taken to its full extent.

It’s pleasant to believe. But this is an intoxication we can do without. Or say farewell to liberty, justice, peace. It’s natural and delicious to believe that the state will give us all these goods or, if not the state, then we like to believe that co-operation, socialism, communism or some other constitution will allow us one day to trust the judgement of others and, in short, sleep with open eyes, like animals. Not at all. The responsibility for thinking can’t be delegated. Once the human head repeats that old movement up and down, in order to say yes, the tyrants promptly return. The call for unity is the most recent invention against the human, and the most disastrous. Here humans are without defence, and the happiness of loving invades everything.“This is for you,” they say, ‘for your own salvation, for your own good.” If it’s a bad actor speaking, people will laugh. Even animals, as I think, sense lies as if by instinct; and human beings vibrate like a drum according to the eloquence of the heart. Now I don’t believe that actors have ever had any power. I’m not afraid of bad masters. It’s the good ones I fear. I’m shown a human drum, one from yesterday or tomorrow. I’m told: “He’s sincere, good, honest; he’s devoted to the public good; he keeps his promises.” Maybe. The trust he asks of me, or that you ask of me on his behalf, I grant freely to every human being. But I expect more of a human being; I’m waiting for him to learn how to doubt; for that’s the mark of a human being. And I want to help him; so it’s not a moment for abdicating; it’s not a moment for me to renounce the spirit of examination. No. This would be to dethrone and uncrown him as well as myself.

Politicians should get used to the kicks and pricks of this kind of love, which wakes them up and gives them great cunning. At present they only know how to shed tears and say that the people are most ungrateful and unkind. The people are moved and renew, along with a lease of three, six or nine years, their right to believe in themselves. So now see them with their eyes covered. Just like those bankers, who are poets, and who obtain a new lease of confidence; they too don’t like to doubt their marvellous values; and the shareholders brought together don’t like to doubt either; the consultants, so well paid, show no doubt either. Certainly it’s pleasant to believe in one’s own wealth; but above all it’s pleasant to believe in someone; and this man in whom one believes, is also happy to be believed, and to believe those who believe him, and to believe himself. It’s for this reason that kings have no judgement. A human being is not in a situation where he can ever treat himself to the luxury of belief.

Belief is slavery, war and poverty. And in my opinion, faith is opposed to belief. Faith in a human being is difficult for a human being, for it is faith in a living mind and spirit; it’s a faith which stimulates the mind, which pricks it, which shames it; a faith which shakes the sleeper awake. In every league, in every association, in every state can be found the happiness of cheering, of approving the accounts, and of sleeping, at the top and at the bottom, for a year, as if the laws can think. In these assemblies there are also true believers, a small number of those I like to call red mules, obstinate souls who can’t be harnessed, who believe nothing. They have the faith, the faith that saves.


May, 5th 1931

Translation copyright Michel Petheram

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