Home > Uncategorized > Alexander Herzen: Chthonic passions, heathen patriotism fuel war

Alexander Herzen: Chthonic passions, heathen patriotism fuel war


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

Russian writers on war

Alexander Herzen: Selections on the military and war


Alexander Herzen
From My Past and Thoughts
Translated by Constance Garnett


Life is impossible between two ideals…Overhead are terrible apparitions, dead men in old armour and old tiaras, and fantastic figures, incredibly radiant shapes, agonisings, sufferings, frantic hopes, the bitter consciousness of weakness and the impotence of reason. Below is the bottomless pit of elemental passions, of primeval slumber, of childish dreams, of cyclopean molelike labour. The voice of man does not reach to these depths, as the wind does not reach to the bottom of the sea; only at times the trumpet-blasts and drum-beats of war are heard there, calling to blood, promising slaughter and dealing destruction.


Prophets may guide the visions and passionate words, but they cannot guide them if they conceal the gift of prophecy or bow down to Baal.


The classification of man by nationalities becomes more and more the wretched ideal of this world which has buried the revolution.

Political parties have dissolved into national parties: that is not merely a backsliding from the Revolution, it is a backsliding from Christianity. The human ideals of Catholicism and the Revolution have given place to a heathen patriotism; and the honour of the flag is the one honour of the peoples that has remained inviolate.


The taciturn bourgeois is ashamed to confess that he is sleep and, half-asleep, goes on muttering incoherent phrases about liberty and progress…

He needs war to awaken him. And is there in all the arsenal of the past a standard, a banner, a word, an idea for which men would go out to fight, which they have not seen put to shame and trampled in the mud?…

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