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.

Resistance and obedience

Resistance and obedience, these are the citizens’ two virtues. Through obedience they confirm order; through resistance they confirm liberty. And it’s quite clear that order and liberty are inseparable, for the play of forces, that is, the unceasing internal war, contains no liberty; it’s an animal life, vulnerable to chance.  So the two terms, order and liberty, are far from being opposed; I prefer to say they are correlative. Liberty is ineffective without order; order is worthless without liberty.

To obey while resisting is the whole secret. What destroys obedience is anarchy; what destroys resistance is tyranny. These two evils summon up each other, tyranny employing force against opinion, and opinion, in turn, employing force against tyranny; and inversely, when resistance becomes disobedience, the powers have no trouble in crushing resistance, and so become tyrannical.  Once a power uses force to kill criticism, it is tyrannical. This is how reasonable citizens can first direct their reflections.

At the point where we are, and given that the right to criticize is in our institutions and way of life, I see that disobedience is the sure means of strengthening the virus of tyranny, from which power is never completely exempt. A minister can say at the despatch box “I don’t prosecute opinions, but actions. All these speeches against war will end up by organising revolt and desertion; that’s quite clear; the facts are proof enough. Military duty, even in times of peace, clashes with interests and passions; if the mind is complacent in any way, instincts of fear, laziness and egoism will in the end appear as reasonable and will destroy order. Human nature is such that if respect is weakened, the passions quickly take over.”


Bramtot, Alfred-Henri (1852-1894): Universal sufrage, 1891


And there precisely is the mistaken doctrine, which is to think that freedom of opinion goes against obedience. I can witness that the contrary is true. As far as I have seen, those who give respect and approval obey badly. And why?  Because they have no self-government and, as a result, they are very weak against their passions. For example, it’s common that soldiers or NCOs, who accept the powers as a fact and do not even conceive of right in face of arbitrary orders, are the ones who most easily neglect the small duties, once the officer is out of the way. There is no end of barracks tales on this subject. Arbitrariness and licence go naturally together. Right is contrary to both. The right is a thought; the right defines, so accepts and refuses, by this same force of mind that is called will.

In all public services, it’s the same. Sycophantic minds  kowtow and cheat on the work as much as they can. Difficult minds work very well. I often read the journal of a teachers’ union; it’s clear they are dedicated to their trade; one only has to read what they write on lessons of grammar and arithmetic to be certain of that. These are the fruits of liberty. If, in their conferences, they were to very clearly define the duty of resistance and the duty of obedience, tyranny would have no force.

(Propos 4/9/12)

English translation copyright © Michel Petheram

To read the French version on this website. 


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