by Professor Robert O'Driscoll
The following summary is based on The Terrors of the Year Two Thousand, an extraordinary, prophetic essay written in 1948 by one of the most renowned of twentieth-century philosophers, Etienne Gilson, who was the founder in the nineteen thirties of the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies. The essay was reprinted in 1984 by Father John Kelly, University of St. Michael's College, to celebrate the occasion of Gilson's birth a hundred years ago. To facilitate the flow of the summary, I have used Gilson's words freely, not always surrounding them with quotation marks. This article was published in Sri Aurobindo's Journal of India's Resurgence (Pondicherry, India, July 1985).
If we trace back the history of humanity, we will find no upheaval comparable to that of the twentieth century. Europe has been ravaged by wars that have known no parallel, savagely wiping out two generations with a hatred as fierce and ingenious as only man is capable of conceiving for man. Science has wrested from matter the secret of its destruction, nuclear fission being not only the most intimate revelation of the nature of the physical world but at the same time the freeing of the most powerful agent of destruction that man has ever had at his disposal. Research in biology has been pushed forward entirely independent of all divine or human intention, and even though its discoveries are shrouded in secrecy, genetic engineering seems capable of determining the sexes, of turning out 'males and females at will,' of selecting and producing human beings 'adapted to various functions as do breeders with dogs or horses or cattle.'
In this new society that is being built, of which mindless destruction is a necessary prelude or parallel, a society which will know how to give itself the slaves and even the reproducers it needs, what will become of the dignity and liberty of the human person? In this context, as Etienne Gilson puts it,'the most daring prophecies of H.G. Wells appear tame, for in The Island of Dr. Moreau they were still working to transform wild brutes into men.' In the future society made possible by genetic engineering, 'it is men whom they will be transforming into brutes - to use them to foster the end of humanity thenceforth unworthy of the name.'
The arrogant creation of this new society, paralleled by the annihilation of all values, is a mere premise, however, to a more blasphemous proposition: that man can usurp the position in the cosmos traditionally assigned to God. Up to very recent times man had thought nothing, said nothing, done nothing that did not draw its inspiration from the certitude that there existed a God or Gods. But if the totality of the human past depended on the certitude that God exists, the totality of its future seems to depend on the contrary certitude, that God does not exist. 'Antichrist,' Gilson writes, 'is not among us, he is in us. It is man himself, usurping unlimited, creative power and proceeding to the certain annihilating of that which is, in order to clear the way for the problematic creation of what will be,' the monstrous idol made with our own hands to our own image and likeness.
Already, some of the main movements in twentieth-century art and philosophy have prepared the ground. The French syrnbolist Mallarmé wanted to construct an art 'which would have the value of a preternatural creation and which would be able to enter into rivalry with the world of created things to the point of supplanting it totally.' To abolish existing creation in order to create another was, too, the ambition of authentic surrealism which André Breton defined as 'something dictated by thought, released from all control of reason, divorced from all aesthetic or moral preoccupations.' The most simple surrealist act, Breton points out, 'consists in this: to go down into the streets, pistol in hand, and shoot at random, for all you are worth, into the crowd.' Why not, Gilson asks, for the massacre of values is a necessary step in the creation of values that are really new: in this reversal of perspectives, good and evil are interchanged: 'every means becomes good,' Breton advocates, 'when employed to destroy the ideas of family, native land, religion.'
Thus, liberated by atheism, having become gods without asking for it, the masses of ordinary men do not know what to do with their divinity, for they find neither within them nor without themselves anything on which to rely. 'We have neither behind us nor before us,' Jean-Paul Sartre writes, 'any justification or excuse. We are alone, without excuse. This is what I would express in saying that man is condemned to be free ... man, without any support and without any help, is condemned at each moment to invent man.' This is the existentialist diagnosis of the condition of twentieth-century man, abandoned to himself, eternally condemned, like Sisyphus, to create himself in the permanent anguish of his own nothingness.
A new madness, however, seizes the soul, a temptation at first, then a vague consent to something which germinates in the deepest core of his decimated being, a consent and, ironic though it may seem, a desire for slavery, as the demolition of the earlier part of the twentieth century prepares the way at the end for the proliferation of cults and communities, to which the human individual is prepared to surrender his liberty, or, in balder terms, to sell his soul. With growing impatience, Gilson writes, men await 'the arrival of the master who will impose on them all forms of slavery, starting with the worst and most degrading of all - that of the mind! Blessed be he who will deliver us from ourselves! Alone under a heaven henceforth empty, man offers to whoever is willing to take it, this futile liberty which he does not know how to use. He is ready for all dictators, leaders of these human herds who follow them as guides and who are all finally conducted by them to the same place - the abattoir.'
To counter this spiral towards the abyss, Gilson advocates one simple proposition, as true now as it always was: the acceptance of a divine principle beyond ourselves, the recognition on all sides, 'within as well as without, of a single and self-same light which enlightens the understanding and regulates things, for the spirit which is found in them reconstructs them in the mind according to the order of the same creative intelligibility.' This harmony of spirit and matter, of thought and reality, Einstein describes, 'as the most incomprehensible of mysteries.' It does not astonish Gilson the philosopher, for he knows its source, 'that same God Whose pure existence is at the origin of all reality as well as of knowledge.'
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Les Relations des Jésuites contiennent 6 tomes et défont le mythe du bon Sauvage de Jean-Jacques Rousseau, et aussi des légendes indiennes pour réclamer des territoires, ainsi que la fameuse «spiritualité amérindienne».
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