Edgar Quinet: The soul of man has vanished, nations and races are doomed to combat and destroy each other
From address delivered at the Congress of Peace in Geneva in 1867
Translated by Constance Garnett
In the worst days of the ancient Caesarism, when every one was dumb except the sovereign, there were men who left their refuge in the wilderness to utter a few words of truth in the face of the fallen peoples. For sixteen years I have been living in the wilderness, and I in my turn should like to break the deadly silence to which our age has grown accustomed.
You have no conscience…it is dead, crushed under the heel of the mighty, it has disowned itself. For sixteen years I have been seeking traces of it and have not found it.
It was the same under the Caesars in the ancient world. The soul of man has vanished. The peoples aided their own enslavement, applauded it, showing neither regret nor remorse. As the conscience of mankind vanished, it left an emptiness which was felt in everything as it is now, and to fill it a new god was needed.
Who will in our day fill the abyss opened by modern Caesarism?
In the place of the worn-out, abolished conscience has come night; we wander in the darkness not knowing whence to seek aid, to whom to turn. All have helped to bring about our fall: church and law-court, the nations and society…Deaf is the earth, deaf conscience, deaf the peoples; right has perished with conscience; only might rules…
What have you come for, what are you seeking in these ruins of ruins? You answer that you are seeking peace. Whence do you seek it? You are lost among the broken ruins of the fallen edifice of justice. You seek peace, you are mistaken, it is not here. Here is war. In this night without dawn, nations and races are doomed to combat and destroy each other at hazard in obedience to the will of the rulers who have fettered their hands and their minds in bondage.
The nations will rise again only when they are conscious of the depth of their fall!