Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Charles de Peguy on Mysticism and Politics: a summary

Leave it to First Things magazine to bring up a topic intriguing to your humble blogger that begs sharing. This time, it was one of the subject options for their most recent essay contest. It was a quote from Charles Peguy

Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics

Firstly, who is Charles Peguy? He was French essayist and poet who lived during the late 19th and early 20th Century.  A great background on him can be found here. The linked article also makes a well argued case for why he matters. As for the aforementioned quote, it will be argued here that it is an example of how he, as Robert Royal contends, '...tried to bring simple truths to bear on the whole modern world".

Peguy's famous quote comes from his essay Memories of Youth, which is available in a larger volume of his work appropriately titled Temporal and Eternal. In the work, he addresses his concept of "la mystique", or mysticism, and "politique", or policy.  The two are illustrated as linking the transcendent and earthly. What's more, they are discussed in the context of the fundamental issues affecting modern life-religion and politics, tradition and liberty.

Mysticism according to Peguy, is a reality beyond the temporal. Notably, he uses the term in the same context where he mentions being, soul,  principles and ideals. Alexander Dru, in his introduction for Temporal and Eternal, describes it as "an 'operation' which links the eternal and temporal spheres, a movement which is the sole guarantee of freedom".  Flowing from this "operation", Peguy continues, is action. That action is politics.

Here, politics is illustrated as a taking "of one's ticket on departure in a party, in a faction...never to bother where the train is rolling to".  The "mystique" is "devoured" and "degraded". It becomes a debate over which policy should prevail. In a brief saying, the process is summed up.

Charles Peguy made his notable observation at the dawn of modern society.  At a time where the essence of things were coming into question, he saw non-temporal realities at the heart of that essence turn into political action. In many cases, such actions were of a nature not conducive to liberty. The years following that time, up to the present day, have seen many and universally known scenarios which have confirmed Peguy to be ahead of his time.


Peguy, Charles. Temporal and Eternal. 2001, Liberty Fund

Royal, Robert. The Mystery of the Passion of Charles Peguy. Crisis, December 1, 1996