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Stefan Zweig: The army of the spirit, not the army of force

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

Stefan Zweig: Selections on peace and war

Romain Rolland: Selections on war

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

For Olivier there is but one true freedom, that which comes from within, the freedom which a man must win for himself. The illusion of the crowd, its eternal class struggles and national struggles for power, distress him, but do not arouse his sympathy. Standing quite alone, he maintains his mental poise when war between Germany and France is imminent, when all are shaken in their convictions, and when even Jean Christophe feels that he must return home to fight for his fatherland. “I love my country,” says the Frenchman to his German brother. “I love it just as you love yours. But am I for this reason to betray my conscience, to kill my soul? This would signify the betrayal of my country. I belong to the army of the spirit, not to the army of force.” But brute force takes its revenge upon the man who despises force, and he is killed in a chance medley…

Jean Christophe’s goodness is that of instinct; it is elemental, therefore, and liable to be interrupted by passionate relapses into hate. Olivier’s goodness, on the other hand, is intellectual and wise, and is tinged merely at times by ironical skepticism. But it is this contrast between them, it is the fact that their aspirations towards goodness are complementary, which draws them together. Christophe’s robust faith revives joy in life for the lonely Olivier. Christophe, in turn, learns justice from Olivier. The sage is uplifted by the strong, who is himself enlightened by the sage’s clarity. This mutual exchange of benefits symbolizes the relationship between their nations. The friendship between the two individuals is designed to be the prototype of a spiritual alliance between the brother peoples. France and Germany are “the two pinions of the west.” The European spirit is to soar freely above the blood-drenched fields of the past.

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The defeat which had spiritualized French idealism, had, from the German side, as a victory, materialized German idealism. “What has victorious Germany given to the world?” asks Jean Christophe. He answers his own question by saying: “The flashing of bayonets; vigor without magnanimity; brutal realism; force conjoined with greed for profit; Mars as commercial traveler.” He is grieved to recognize that Germany has been harmed by victory. He suffers; for “one expects more of one’s own country than of another, and is hurt more by the faults of one’s own land.” Ever the revolutionist, Christophe detests noisy self-assertion, militarist arrogance, the churlishness of caste feeling.

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“The fire which had been smouldering in the European forest was now breaking forth into flame. Extinguished in one place, it promptly began to rage in another. Amid whirlwinds of smoke and a rain of sparks, it leaped from point to point, while the parched undergrowth kindled. Outpost skirmishes in the east had already begun, as preludes to the great war of the nations. The whole of Europe, that Europe which was still skeptical and apathetic like a dead forest, was fuel for the conflagration. The fighting spirit was universal. From moment to moment, war seemed imminent. Stifled, it was continually reborn. The most trifling pretext served to feed its strength. The world felt itself to be at the mercy of chance, which would initiate the terrible struggle. It was waiting. A feeling of inexorable necessity weighed upon all, even upon the most pacific. The ideologues, sheltering in the shade of Proudhon the titan, hailed war as man’s most splendid claim to nobility.

“It was for this, then, that there had been effected a physical and moral resurrection of the races of the west! It was towards these butcheries that the streams of action and passionate faith had been hastening!”

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Christophe recalls those earlier days when he and Olivier had been concerned about the prospect of war. At that time there were but distant rumblings of the storm. Now the storm clouds covered all the skies of Europe. Fruitless had been the call to unity; vain had been the pointing out of the path through the darkness. Mournfully the seer contemplates in the distance the horsemen of the Apocalypse, the heralds of fratricidal strife.

But beside the dying man is the Child, smiling and full of knowledge; the Child who is Eternal Life.

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“Display everyday life to everyday people – the life that is deeper and wider than the ocean. The least among us bears infinity within him…Describe the simple life of one of these simple men; …describe it simply, as it actually happens. Do not trouble about phrasing; do not dissipate your energies, as do so many contemporary writers, in straining for artistic effects. You wish to speak to the many, and you must therefore speak their language…Throw yourself into what you create; think your own thoughts; feel your own feelings. Let your heart set the rhythm to the words. Style is soul.”

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