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A PRACTICAL TURN: ELIE HALEVY'S EMBRACE OF POLITICS AND HISTORY

  • JOEL REVILL (a1)
Abstract

Elie Halévy's legacy is bounded by the two primary objects of his scholarly interest: the history of modern Britain and the study of French socialist doctrines. Taken together, his writings on temperate English politics and occasionally intemperate French socialists cemented his status as a leading French liberal of his generation. Read out of context, the tone of his criticism of wartime socialization and the growth of wartime governments has given him a conservative reputation in some circles and inspired a backlash among historians seeking a more progressive Halévy in his prewar writings. Meanwhile, the depth of his historical study of Britain has elicited several discussions of Halévy's turn from philosophy to history at the end of the 1890s. The portrait of Halévy that emerges in light of his historical studies of England and of French socialism is detailed, accurate, and flattering, but, like any portrait, it is incomplete. Before he was a historian, Halévy was a philosopher, and before he mastered his craft in the early twentieth century, Halévy struggled to find his voice in the late nineteenth.

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1 Durkheim gave a lucid description of this moment: “The various philosophical sciences are becoming increasingly detached from one another and freed from the grand metaphysical hypotheses that tied them together. Psychology today is no longer spiritualist or materialist. Why should it not be the same for morals?” Emile Durkheim, “La science positive de la morale en Allemagne,” Revue philosophique, 24 (1887), 33–58, 113–42, 275–84, 33.

2 Myrna Chase attributes his early dislike of politics to his father's disillusion with his own political activity under the Empire; this paternal inheritance may have been important, but is too limited to explain the attitude displayed by so many French students in the 1880s. See Chase Myrna, Elie Halévy: An Intellectual Biography (New York, 1980), 15.

3 Datta Venita, Birth of a National Icon: The Literary Avant-Garde and the Origins of the Intellectual in France (Albany, NY, 1999), 19.

4 Frobert Ludovic, Elie Halévy: République et économie (1896–1914) (Villeneuve d’Ascq, 2003).

5 Steven Vincent, “Elie Halévy: English History, Thought, and Moeurs; and Reflections About France,” paper delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Western Society for French History, 2012, 2.

6 Darlu AlphonseIntroduction,” Revue de métaphysique et de morale, 1 (1893), 2.

7 Halévy Elie, Elie Halévy: Correspondance (1891–1937), ed. Guy-Loë Henriette (Paris, 1996), 72.

8 This conflation is made explicitly in a letter to Bouglé and became the subject of a debate between the two: “I hold that philosophy and science are the same, once science ceases to be defined, as contemporary positivists would do, either as the science of a material reality or as practical science.” Halévy, Correspondance, 105.

9 Brunschvicg would argue at length that philosophy feeds on the lessons it learns from the sciences, allowing reason itself to evolve over time.

10 Halévy Correspondance, 65

11 Darlu, “Introduction,” 3.

12 For the sake of brevity I refer to the co-authored articles under discussion as Halévy's.

13 Halévy, Correspondance, 65.

14 Halévy was explicit in a letter to Bouglé: “the doctrine of science precedes the doctrine of morals; the physical world precedes the moral world.” Halévy, Correspondance, 107.

15 Anonymous, “La philosophie au Collège de France,” Revue de métaphysique et de morale, 1 (1893), 369–81, 375. I owe the attribution of this article to Halévy and Brunschvicg to Ludovic Frobert.

16 On Boutroux's thesis see Revill Joel, “Émile Boutroux, Redefining Science and Faith in the Third Republic,” Modern Intellectual History, 6 (2009), 485512; on his relations with Catholicism and with Poincaré see Nye Mary Jo, “The Boutroux Circle and Poincaré's Conventionalism,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 40 (1979), 107–20; Nye Mary Jo, “The Moral Freedom of Man and the Determinism of Nature: The Catholic Synthesis of Science and History in the Revue des questions scientifiques,” British Journal for the History of Science, 9 (1976), 274–92.

17 Anonymous, “La philosophie au Collège de France,” 375.

18 Brunschvicg Léon and Halévy Elie, “L’année philosophique 1893,” Revue de métaphysique et de morale, 2 (1894), 473–96, 489.

19 Brunschvicg Léon and Halévy Elie, “L’année philosophique 1893: Philosophie pratique (suite),” Revue de métaphysique et de morale, 2 (1894), 563–90, 564.

20 Brunschvicg and Halévy, “Année Philosophique,” 566.

21 Brunschvicg and Halévy, “Année Philosophique (Suite),” 587.

22 Ibid., 589. On Halévy's use of a Platonic dialectic in his later work see Frobert, Elie Halévy: République et économie.

23 Brunschvicg and Halévy, “Année Philosophique (Suite),” 568.

24 Ibid., 569.

25 On political economy see Anonymous, “La philosophie au Collège de France,” 377.

26 On this point, Halévy and Durkheim were working toward the same conclusion from divergent starting points. Durkheim argued several years earlier that the failure of Kantian and utilitarian ethics was their claim to universality, when ethics actually arise from concrete social and economic situations. Durkheim, “La science positive,” 42.

27 Brunschvicg and Halévy, “Année Philosophique (Suite),” 587.

28 Quoted in Frobert Ludovic, “Halévy's Lectures on European Socialism,” Journal of the History of Ideas, 68 (2007), 329–53, 334.

29 Alain, Correspondance avec Elie et Florence Halévy, ed. Jeanne Michel-Alexandre (Paris, 1958), 392.

30 Halévy, Correspondance, 139.

31 Chase, Elie Halévy: An Intellectual Biography, 24.

32 The introduction rehashes Halévy and Brunschvicg's arguments about the paucity of philosophical scholarship at the Collège de France and is structured along the same parallel tracks of logic–natural science and social science–ethics that Halévy had used repeatedly elsewhere.

33 Anonymous, “Introduction,” Revue de métaphysique et de morale, 3 (1895), 112–14, 112.

34 See Paul Harry, “The Debate over the Bankruptcy of Science in 1895,” French Historical Studies, 5 (1968), 299327. The phrase “bankruptcy of science” seems to have originated with Paul Bourget. See Lalouette Jacqueline, La république anticléricale XIXe–XXe siècles (Paris, 2002), 264.

35 The martial rhetoric both overstates the clarity of the division between what it is tempting to call left and right, and accurately captures the mood of the time. It is, after all, Brunetière's own metaphor. Brunetière Ferdinand, “Après une visite au Vatican,” Revue des deux mondes, 127 (1895), 97–118, 118.

36 Ibid., 99.

37 Ibid., 113.

38 Lalouette, La république anticléricale, 281.

39 Brunetière Ferdinand, “En l’honneur de la science,” Le Figaro, 3rd series, 41 (94), 1 (1895), 1.

40 Anonymous, “Introduction,” 114 n. 1.

41 Halévy, Correspondance, 144.

42 Anonymous, “Introduction,” 113.

43 The debate over science was one battle in a larger war over secondary education that pitted a classical curriculum against a modern curriculum based on the study of science and living languages. That Boutroux and Brunschvicg were active participants in this forty-year struggle on opposite sides of the issue suggests that while the education debate conditioned the fight over science, the two debates did not line up neatly.

44 Rauh Frederic, “Science, morale, et réligion,” Revue de métaphysique et de morale, 3 (1895), 367–74.

45 Halévy, Correspondance, 145.

46 Chase, Elie Halévy: An Intellectual Biography, 46. Thanks to Mary Gluck for pointing out the particularity of Halévy's choice of Bentham as a subject: a philosopher who was deeply engaged in contemporary social questions.

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Modern Intellectual History
  • ISSN: 1479-2443
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