“The Civilization of the Machines is the civilization of quantity opposed to that of quality”
Georges Bernanos (1888-1948) was a French novelist and commentator who strongly criticised the industrial capitalist machine.
After a youthful flirtation with the far-right Action Française, he went on to condemn fascism as “disgustingly monstrous” and was a prominent supporter, from exile in Brazil, of the Free French Forces resisting the Nazi occupation during the Second World War.
From a radical organic perspective, he is significant for his outspoken opposition to the industrial capitalist world and its crushing of the human spirit.
In a 1944 interview Bernanos said: “This world, described stupidly as modern as it were sufficiently justified by the very fact of existing today, has enormous means at its disposal, and notably a propaganda system whose power, efficiency and all-embracing scope simply cannot be compared with anything man has previously known or even imagined.” (1)
Three years later he penned the essay ‘France Against the Robots’ (‘La France contre les Robots’), in which he declared war on those he described as “the imbeciles”. He condemned the machine-civilisation and its technology, declaring: “The Civilization of the Machines is the civilization of quantity opposed to that of quality”. (2)
Bernanos warned that the headlong plunge into productivism, consumerism and money-making was threatening humanity and its spiritual well-being.
He wrote: “We can understand nothing about modern civilisation if we don’t first accept that it is a universal conspiracy against all kinds of interior life”. (3)
Jacques Allaire nicely summed up Bernanos’ analysis of the industrial-commercial malaise: “Having has replaced being. In our modern societies, blinded by the speed with which they can produce, the sense of having has become the one and only sense. Having is even the essence of being”. (4)
Inevitably, Bernanos’ critique of industrial capitalism led to him being accused of being backward-looking or reactionary. But this was far from the truth and he always insisted that it was not a question of going into reverse gear but of changing the direction in which are moving forward.
He wrote: “The rule of Money is the rule of the Old. In a world which has succumbed to the dictatorship of Profit, anyone who dares to put honour before money is automatically reduced to powerlessness. It is the spirit of youth which is rejected. The youth of the world has a choice to make between two extreme solutions: surrender or revolution”. (5)
Audio link: Une vie, une œuvre : Georges Bernanos (59 mins)
1. Georges Bernanos, interview with Diaro de Belo Horizonte, June 1944.
2. Georges Bernanos, ‘La France contre les robots’, cit. Aux origines de la décroissance – Cinquante penseurs, coordonné par Cédric Biagini, David Murray, Pierre Thiesset (Paris: L’Échappée, 2017), p. 28.
3. Bernanos, ‘La France contre les robots’, cit. Aux origines de la décroissance, p. 31.
4. Jacques Allaire, Aux origines de la décroissance, p. 30.
5. Bernanos, La France contre les robots, cit. Aux origines de la décroissance, p. 31.