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Stefan Zweig: Romain Rolland and the campaign against hatred

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Maxim Gorky on Romain Rolland, war and humanism

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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Stefan Zweig
From Romain Rolland: The Man and His Work (1921)
Translated by Eden Paul and Cedar Paul

stefanzweig

The Campaign Against Hatred

The essay Au-dessus de la mêlée was the first stroke of the woodman’s axe in the overgrown forest of hatred; thereupon, a roaring echo thundered from all sides, reverberating reluctantly in the newspapers. Undismayed, Rolland resolutely continued his work. He wished to cut a clearing into which a few sunbeams of reason might shine through the gloomy and suffocating atmosphere. His next essays aimed at illuminating an open space of such a character. Especially notable were Inter Arma Caritas (October 30, 1914); Les idoles (December 4, 1914); Notre prochain l’ennemi (March 15, 1915); Le meutre des élites (June 14, 1915). These were attempts to give a voice to the silent. “Let us help the victims! It is true that we cannot do very much. In the everlasting struggle between good and evil, the balance is unequal. We require a century for the upbuilding of that which a day destroys. Nevertheless, the frenzy lasts no more than a day, and the patient labor of reconstruction is our daily bread. This work goes on even during an hour when the world is perishing around us.”

The poet had at length come to understand his task. It is useless to attack the war directly. Reason can effect nothing against the elemental forces. But he regards it as his predestined duty to combat throughout the war everything that the passions of men lead them to undertake for the deliberate increase of horror, to combat the spiritual poison of the war. The most atrocious feature of the present struggle, one which distinguishes it from all previous wars, is this deliberate poisoning. That which in earlier days was accepted with simple resignation as a disastrous visitation like the plague, was now presented in a heroic light, as a sign of “the grandeur of the age.” An ethic of force, an ethic of destruction, was being preached. The mass struggle of the nations was being purposely inflamed to become the mass hatred of individuals. Rolland, therefore, was not, as many have supposed, attacking the war; he was attacking the ideology of the war, the artificial idolization of brutality. As far as the individual was concerned, he attacked the readiness to accept a collective morality constructed solely for the duration of the war; he attacked the surrender of conscience in face of the prevailing universalization of falsehood; he attacked the suspension of inner freedom which was advocated until the war should be over.

His words, therefore, are not directed against the masses, not against the peoples. These know not what they do; they are deceived; they are dumb driven cattle. The diffusion of lying has made it easy for them to hate. “Il est si commode de haïr sans comprendre.” The fault lies with the inciters, with the manufacturers of lies, with the intellectuals. They are guilty, seven times guilty, because, thanks to their education and experience, they cannot fail to know the truth which nevertheless they repudiate; because from weakness, and in many cases from calculation, they have surrendered to the current of uninstructed opinion, instead of using their authority to deflect this current into better channels. Of set purpose, instead of defending the ideals they formerly espoused, the ideals of humanity and international unity, they have revived the ideas of the Spartans and of the Homeric heroes, which have as little place in our time as have spears and plate-armor in these days of machine-gun warfare. Heretofore, to the great spirits of all time, hatred has seemed a base and contemptible accompaniment of war. The thoughtful among the non-combatants put it away from them with loathing; the warriors rejected the sentiment upon grounds of chivalry. Now, hatred is not merely supported with all the arguments of logic, science, and poesy; but is actually, in defiance of gospel teaching, raised to a place among the moral duties, so that every one who resists the feeling of collective hatred is branded as a traitor. Against these enemies of the free spirit, Rolland takes up his parable: “Not only have they done nothing to lessen reciprocal misunderstanding; not only have they done nothing to limit the diffusion of hate; on the contrary, with few exceptions, they have done everything in their power to make hatred more widespread and more venomous. In large part, this war is their war. By their murderous ideologies they have led thousands astray. With criminal self-confidence, unteachable in their arrogance, they have driven millions to death, sacrificing their fellows to the phantoms which they, the intellectuals, have created.” The persons to whom blame attaches are those who know, or who might have known; but who, from sloth, cowardice, or weakness, from desire for fame or for some other personal advantage, have given themselves over to lying.

The hatred breathed by the intellectuals was a falsehood. Had it been a truth, had it been a genuine passion, those who were inspired with this feeling would have ceased talking and would themselves have taken up arms. Most people are moved either by hatred or by love, not by abstract ideas. For this reason, the attempt to sow dissension among millions of unknown individuals, the attempt to “perpetuate” hatred, was a crime against the spirit rather than against the flesh. It was a deliberate falsification to include leaders and led, drivers and driven, in a single category; to generalize Germany as an integral object for hatred. We must join one fellowship or the other, that of the truthtellers or that of the liars, that of the men of conscience or that of the men of phrase. Just as in Jean Christophe, Rolland, in order to show forth the universally human fellowship, had distinguished between the true France and the false, between the old Germany and the new; so now in wartime did he draw attention to the ominous resemblance between the war fanatics in both camps, and to the heroic isolation of those who were above the battle in all the belligerent lands. Thus did he endeavor to fulfill Tolstoi’s dictum, that it is the function of the imaginative writer to strengthen the ties that bind men together. In Rolland’s comedy Liluli, the “cerveaux enchaînés,” dressed in various national uniforms, dance the same Indian war-dance under the lash of Patriotism, the negro slave-driver. There is a terrible resemblance between the German professors and those of the Sorbonne. All of them turn the same logical somersaults; all join in the same chorus of hate.

But the fellowship to which Rolland wishes to draw our attention, is the fellowship of solace. It is true that the humanizing forces are not so well organized as the forces of destruction. Free opinion is gagged, whereas falsehood bellows through the megaphones of the press. Truth has to be sought out with painful labor, for the state makes it its business to hide truth. Nevertheless, those who search perseveringly can discover truth among all nations and among all races. In these essays, Rolland gives many examples, drawn equally from French and from German sources, showing that even in the trenches, nay, that especially in the trenches, thousands upon thousands are animated with brotherly feelings. He publishes letters from German soldiers, side by side with letters from French soldiers, all couched in the same phraseology of human friendliness. He tells of the women’s organizations for helping the enemy, and shows that amid the cruelty of arms the same lovingkindness is displayed on both sides. He publishes poems from either camp, poems which exhale a common sentiment. Just as in his Vie des hommes illustres he had wished to show the sufferers of the world that they were not alone, but that the greatest minds of all epochs were with them, so now does he attempt to convince those who amid the general madness are apt to regard themselves as outcasts because they do not share the fire and fury of the newspapers and the professors, that they have everywhere silent brothers of the spirit. Once more, as of old, he wishes to unite the invisible community of the free. “I feel the same joy when I find the fragile and valiant flowers of human pity piercing the icy crust of hatred that covers Europe, as we feel in these chilly March days when we see the first flowers appear above the soil. They show that the warmth of life persists below the surface, and that soon nothing will prevent its rising again.”

Undismayed he continues on his “humble pélérinage,” endeavoring “to discover, beneath the ruins, the hearts of those who have remained faithful to the old ideal of human brotherhood. What a melancholy joy it is to come to their aid.” For the sake of this consolation, for the sake of this hope, he gives a new significance even to war, which he has hated and dreaded from early childhood. “To war we owe one painful benefit, in that it has served to bring together those of all nations who refuse to share the prevailing sentiments of national hatred. It has steeled their energies, has inspired them with an indefatigable will. How mistaken are those who imagine that the ideas of human brotherhood have been stifled… Not for a moment do I doubt the coming unity of the European fellowship. That unity will be realized. The war is but its baptism of blood.”

Thus does the good Samaritan, the healer of souls, endeavor to bring to the despairing that hope which is the bread of life. Perchance Rolland speaks with a confidence that runs somewhat in advance of his innermost convictions. But he only who realized the intense yearnings of the innumerable persons who at that date were imprisoned in their respective fatherlands, barred in the cages of the censorships, he alone can realize the value to such poor captives of Rolland’s manifestoes of faith, words free from hatred, bringing at length a message of brotherhood.

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