George Bernanos (1888-1948)
NOTES ON GEORGE BERNANOS’ ESSAY ‘WHY FREEDOM?’ BY NOBLE M. NOTAS[i]
George Bernanos, a Roman Catholic French soldier and writer ardently opposed to bourgeois ideology, foresaw and witnessed the “disgusting monstrousness” of fascism. What would he think of our friendly fascism? Could we survive without it?
Bernanos believes democracy in most countries is economic dictatorship. Surely that would not include the United States, the greatest nation on Earth, leader of world civilization! Well, it is true, for example, that a few, mostly white self-righteous males whom I did not elect, can, by manipulating interest rates, determine whether I have a job or not, and, if I have one, whether I can buy a house or car or refrigerator, but they do so for my own good, and they make plenty of contributions to my elected representatives to make sure everything is done in the interest of democracy. I am so happy they give me a few candidates to vote for.
According to Bernanos, those who are considered to be leaders of public opinion are only its exploiters. That is great news! At least it is my own public opinion being exploited!
He says the new form of civilization coincided with the introduction in England of the weaving machines. But of course! And now this great English-speaking Superpower of ours engineers the mechanical integration of the global ant colony, but I don’t want to be an ant. I want to weave my own life. Where are the Luddites when we need them? They would not bomb the ants but would disrupt the nervous transmissions with fiber-optic cable cutters. Bernanos thinks the multiplication of machines will lead to a Supermachine controlling all machines. That is a great idea! We should be a Super-power over all powers, the sole Superpower!
He thought France would refuse to go along with the sole Superpower because she is the Mother of Revolution. Her idea of Liberty must be recaptured. I see. That is why the Bush Whitehouse serves Liberty Fries instead of French Fries.. By the way, how can a devout Catholic approve of the French Revolution?
Capitalist enterprises will shrink in number as they grow in power, says the prophet, and he is right. Of course there are more small businesses sucking off the hind tits of the big cows. And the milk must be laced with alcohol, nicotine, cocaine and heroin to keep the hyperactive heifers believing there is such a thing as a free market. Holy Cow! The cow has horns!
Maximum efficiency makes liberty a luxury. There must be no limit to the luxury of the elite. Liberty is a threat to the quantity and quality of the average labor unit the machine feeds on.
The modification of man effected by machines is much more profound than the modification of the rest of Nature. A free man is a monster or a freak in this society. A man’s liberty is sucked out of him by the economic Supermachine, and he becomes an economic cog accounted for as a statistical unit, another speck of dust in the universe of economic discourse. Women too, for they are becoming equal to men hence they also suffer his destiny, being ground down to almost nothing. Dictatorship is the symptom of the disease. Corporations are run from the top down like military organizations – in the economic sphere they evolve towards the perfection of capitalism in fascism. We do not elect the corrupt corporate executives and directors who have command over our working lives. At least they have freedom in their criminality as they collude with the political leadership, whose crimes against alien humanity are ignored within their respective domains. At least they will not be sentenced to prison if the economy collapses due to their greed and corruption.
Technocrats determine the daily circumstances of our lives. Machines are collectivism’s coercive tools. Forget about oiling squeaking cogs, simply dispose of refractory individuals. I wonder: Is anyone besides myself sick and tired of having the latest update shoved down their throat? They want me to welcome their change, but I do not want to be a welcome mat for their change! But the change is often subtle, creeps up unseen. People think of machines in crude terms, such as a steam engine or drill press. But the Supermachine is unseen, and it is not God. The storm troopers no longer have to break down doors. The Supermachine is watching us, babysitting us, and we think we are watching television, reading the newspaper, surfing the Net. But we are not thinking. We are being thought by the Supermachine, being replicated in its image. The consumer is created by advertising. We are unwittingly being manufactured by propaganda. Hypnotized by the media, unable to make our own independent judgments, we have become indifferent creatures of habit. We are ripe for tyranny. Any threat to the social structure will terrify individuals and give them reasons to embrace a police state with open arms, to renounce in name those liberties they have already resigned in fact.
Bernanos says we are losing our autonomy as we are absorbed by the economic machine, and that the power of technocrats is far greater than that of the old tyrants. He does not think we will be led by robots out into the fields like slaves, or that machines will get so smart that they will kill off humans before humans get wise and pull the plug. The machines themselves are not the masters. The machines are not inherently dangerous, but those who own the machines and have power over them are exceedingly dangerous. The entire society can be manipulated with a few controls. Yet the Supermachine itself becomes dangerous as more and more machines are integrated; machine-life takes on a momentum of its own and works against the freedom of the builders of those machines. People come to believe the process is inevitable because they have succumbed to the loss of their freedom. What we have here is not a question of destroying machines but of restoring human dignity. Man is not an ant.
To truly hope, we must discard the illusions of our false hopes.
Our present age is not a mere stage in the progress of civilizations, but is rather an abortive anti-civilization, an error that must be denounced!
Liberalism thought machines could march along by themselves. Communism pushed the machines along with them. The so called progressive ideology of liberal Jeremy Bentham and of communist Karl Marx has destroyed and devoured many millions of men.
A mechanical utopia is only a paradise for degraded men. Only the divine freedom of man can make its realization impossible.
Humanity is critically ill. Without a great spiritual regeneration, it will soon die.
I wonder what sort of spiritual rejuvenation would suffice. Bernanos was a conservative Catholic. The Church, when not subservient or identical to the State, was a viable alternative to the hateful war of all against all; or at least the Church was a sanctuary for dissidents and hunchbacks. Paradoxically, by submitting to its hierarchically arranged absolute authority, the Catholic was freed.
There is no freedom in a vacuum; freedom is always from something or the other. Submission to higher or spiritual authority in order to be freed from lower or secular authority is not unique to Catholicism, but holds generally true of all religions. Yet this seems to be jumping from the frying pan into the fire, or going to prison to be free.
The monastery is a voluntary penitentiary for penitents. There are times when I would be a monk if only there were a god I believed in or a religion I approved of. But there are none yet. Someone said I have a “conflict with authority” and cannot be saved because I will not submit to authority, because I will not commit virtual suicide to be saved, and so on. There is a big demand for fraud: maybe I should lie to be good, even to be a saint.
Miguel de Unamuno, a devout enough Catholic I think, wrote a story about Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr, an atheist priest who lied to be good, and thus was the savior of his village. Only his assistant knew he was an atheist. Perhaps it is enough for an atheist to love the Church.
We know how corrupt the exoteric Church became, so much so that disgruntled monks fled once again into the wilderness, where the Church had found them before they became monks, when they were hermits, and organized them. The Cistercians prepared a retreat for the nobleman Bernard, the saint who denounced the corruption of the Church and became the foremost propagandist for the Crusade. The Cistercians did quite well economically given their cheap monkish labor, and contributed to an economic boom; then the merchants moved in and took over pending the next purge.
Every once in awhile there must be a cleansing it seems, led by a Savonarola or Muhammad if not a Lenin or Stalin. Under Savonarola’s plan, the excess wealth is taken to the town square and burned. Do not worry, however, for we learn that nothing really valuable was burned, just trinkets and the like. Man himself remains corrupt, so a baptism in a flood of blood is warranted.
Every once in awhile the fundamentalists had to come out of Arabia and set things right again, for the further away one got from the desert, the more the Islamic spirit was corrupted by things. The sacred fetishes of the pagans including the “educational” images of the Christian soldiers must be smashed by ghazis.
I would at least have a few holy possessions, which takes me back to the Church. If I were pope I think I would reform the Church. Everyone would have to have basic training in a monastery, to which they must return for three months every two years. And if someone takes his virtual suicide seriously enough to meet his maker now, he or she could have the lethal injection providing the appropriate conventicle approves. Priests and nuns who so choose could have group sex with each other once a month, for dyadic love relations weaken social ties. On the other hand, Christina might be born from a rib of Christ to take as wife, and then priests could marry nuns.
But I am not pope, so the Church is not for me. Still, I would love to be spiritually regenerated every two years or so. There should be some place people like me can go, a place where each person has their own free cell where they can get recharged, yet still have the company of their fellows, without having to commit a crime.
Noble M. Notas
[i] Noble M. Notas is the nom de plume employed by David Arthur Walters for his academic notes.