Home > Uncategorized > Paul Valéry on global conflicts, Europe governed by American commission

Paul Valéry on global conflicts, Europe governed by American commission


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

French writers on war and peace

Paul Valèry: War, science, art and Leibnitz, who dreamed of universal peace


Paul Valéry

Quote on the Nie wieder Krieg/Plus jamais la guerre monument at Saint-Appolinaire:

La guerre est le massacre de gens qui ne se connaissent pas au profit de gens qui se connaissent mais ne massacrent pas entre eux.

War is the massacre of people who don’t know each other for the profit of people who know each other but don’t massacre each other.


From Extraneous Remarks (1927)
Translated by Anthony Bower

In modern times, not one great power, not one empire in Europe has been able to remain at the top, to extend its conquests for longer than 50 years. The greatest men have failed in that direction; even the most successful have led their countries to ruin. Charles V, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Metternich, Bismarck. Average duration: forty years. No exceptions.

Europe visibly aspires to be governed by an American commission. Its entire policy is directed to that end.

Not knowing how to rid ourselves of our history, we will be relieved of it by a fortunate people who have almost none. They are a happy people and they will force their happiness on us…

History is the most dangerous product that the chemistry of the intellect has invented. Its properties are well known. It engenders dreams, it intoxicates the people, it begets false memories, it exaggerates their reactions, keeps their old wounds open, disturbs their sleep, leads them to delusions of grandeur or of persecution, and makes nations bitter, arrogant, insufferable and vain. History can justify anything…

In the present state of the world, the danger of allowing oneself to be seduced by history is greater than ever it was. The political phenomena of our time are accompanied and complicated by a change in scale without parallel, or rather by a change in the order of things. The world to which we are beginning to belong, both as men and as nations, is not a replica of the world with which we were familiar. The system of causes which governs the fate of us all, extending from now on over the whole globe, makes all of it resound with each concussion: there are no more local problems, no more finite questions to be dealt with on the spot…

The main object of politics was, and still is for some, to acquire territory. Coercion was used, this coveted territory was taken from someone, and all was over. But who cannot see that those enterprises which consisted of a conference, followed by a duel, followed by a pact, will have such inevitable general consequences in the future that nothing is more likely to happen than that the whole world becomes involved, and that one can never foresee nor limit the almost immediate results of what one has begun. All the genius of the great governments of the past is exhausted, made impotent and even worthless by the enlargement and increase in the interdependence of political phenomena, for it is certainly not genius, not strength of character or intellect, not tradition (even British) which can now boast of being able to counteract or modify at will the conditions and the reactions of a human world to which the old political geometry and the old political mechanics are not at all suited…

The further we go, the less simple and the less predictable will be the results, and the less will political undertakings and even interventions by force, in other words direct and obvious actions, be what one expected them to be. Their extent, their superficialities, their aggregate effect, their interconnections, the impossibility of localizing them, the promptitude of their repercussions will increasingly impose a very different kind of politics than that of the present…Nothing has been more destroyed by the last war than the pretension to foresight…

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