To My African Friends
This irise and touching appeal to the young nations of Africa was written by ALBERT L. GUÉRARD shortly before his death last November. Paris-born, he came to this country in 1906. irhere he made a distinguished record as a teacher in various universities, notably at Stanford. He was the author of twenty books, the most recent being FRANCE: A MODERN HISTORY, which was published in 1959. in his eightieth year.
ALBERT L. GUERARD
GOD knows it, I am with you; I feel your frustrations and your hopes deferred in my flesh. I pray for your victory. But I do not want your victory to be a defeat for civilization. It is my conviction that, in your devotion to a great purpose, you are tempted to blunder into blind alleys. And many of your American supporters are likewise led astray by partisanship. Because they condemn unequivocally the injustices you have suffered, they commit themselves to whatever action you may take, right or wrong. Loose thinking and warped sympathy will not help you. The end may be defeated by the means. Your cause is reasonable and just; it should rely on justice and reason.
I shall not dwell on the moral aspect of the problem. A forgiving spirit is the core of Christianity, and Allah is the All-merciful. In down-to-earth terms, massive retaliations do not pay. In five years, the Nazis piled up more crimes than the colonial nations in a century. Yet Germany today, without an admission of guilt or any sign of repentance, is our best friend and our most trusted ally. Neither shall I insist upon the ultimate futility of violence; that is too obvious. In all ages, ardent believers thought they could serve Christ by torturing their fellow men; their light was darkness, It was not the terrorism of the Fenians that won Ireland‘s independence, nor the silly pranks of some suffragettes that won votes for women. Violence is no argument and no solution; it only breeds counterviolence. As a rule, its apparent triumph sullies and defeats the ideal it claimed to serve. If a Berber tribe swoops down on a hospital created by the Europeans, but for the benefit of the whole population, burns it to the ground, and slits the throats of doctors and nurses, the tribe does not thereby establish its moral claim to independence. In the good old phrase, two wrongs do not make a right. Terrorism is a relapse into the most brutal form of tyranny. As a lifelong student of history, I have come to believe that all violent revolutions, even the most great and glorious, all wars, even the holiest crusades, have retarded human development. Practical men should learn the cruel lessons of the two world wars and understand at last the precepts and example of Gandhi. But my argument will not be on that ethical plane, because I am a teacher, not a preacher. My friendly criticism is that you are committing yourselves to four major delusions, heresies, or idols. These must be exorcized, for they arc obstacles in your path.
The first of these is the continental fallacy: Asia for the Asians! Africa for the Africans! Europeans go home! La valise ou le cercueil — “pack your grip or fill your coflin.” This seems so crude as to be hardly worth discussing. Yet, as a slogan, continentalism has a baleful power, even over minds that are not primitive. The tyranny of words, empty or weighted, is the first that we must guard against. And continents are mere words, conventional historical terms. As a continent, Europe does not exist. It is a series of peninsulas jutting out of the huge Eurasian mass. Michelet said, “Africa begins at the Pyrenees,” and André Siegfried, “Asia begins at the Elbe.” As a child, I was taught about Russia in Europe, Russia in Asia, and it did not make sense. Today, the Arab Republic straddles the boundary between two continents. What is there in common, physically or culturally, between the tundras of arctic Siberia and the jungles of Southern Asia, between North Africa, for millenniums an integral part of the Mediterranean world, and Equatorial Africa beyond the Sahara Desert? In judging a man’s ability, thought, and character, the continent of his origin is wholly incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial. “Truth on the hither side of the Pyrenees,” said Pascal, “error beyond.” Does truth change color when you get to the Gaza Strip?
THE second heresy is nationalism. It was not you who evolved the idea; you have borrowed it from nineteenth-century Europe. You do not realize — many of us do not realize — that the sacrilegious principle “My country right or wrong!” is recent and that its strength is waning, even though its manifestations are more lurid than ever.
Nationalism was in Europe the prolonged shadow of monarchy. The king owned a domain, with which he was identified: Louis XIV was not merely the state, an apparatus; he was France. Loyalty to the sovereign was man‘s first duty. Even in matters of religion, “he who rules the land dictates the faith.” To the present day, the British pledge their allegiance to the throne and the crown. When Kings failed to provide enlightened leadership, they were cast aside, and the people took hold. Demos is now the sovereign. But democracy preserved the coloring, the trappings, the maxims of the old dynastic state. The nations are still haunted with that ideal of unity, which is natural when one man alone owns and rules the land, but which is an absurdity when millions have won the right to express their own thoughts and defend their own interests; democracy should be pluralistic, not totalitarian.
The national state, like the dynastic, has a domain which it wants to increase, a great seal, a coat of arms, a standard, a sword which must be drawn in defense of a punctilious honor. These symbols and metaphors of yesterday do not correspond with either the eternal verities or with the actual conditions of our age. But empty words and forms are still potent for evil perhaps they are the chief forces of evil.– Men have killed for theological subtleties which they did not in the least understand. Millions perished to uphold “Blood and the Soil,” both dynastic conceptions.
The men of the Enlightenment were free from this delusion of nationalism. Goethe and Schiller were Wdtbiirger; George Washington was proud to call himself “a citizen of the great republic of humanity at large.” The survivors of the ancient regime despised nationalism: Metternich was loyal not to the vague entity Germany but to the Hapsburg dynasty. The dusk of the old world blended with the dawn of the new: Metternich did not fall from power until 1848; Victor Hugo, in 1849, prophesied the end of nations and the coming of the world republic.
After many decades of romantic-nationalistic turmoil, the men of the twentieth century have returned to the sanity of the eighteenth — reluctant, however, to confess their error, their heads still heavy with the fumes of the nationalistic intoxication. Woodrow Wilson sought to lay the foundations of world law, and he was hailed as a prophet by the common people of Europe. Wendell Willkie was a symptom, because he was no genius, but a fine example of the sturdy, sensible average man. and he discovered the plain fact that this is “One World.” When presenting his Four Freedoms, Franklin Roosevelt chanted as a refrain. “Everywhere in the world.” The United Nations he created must be either a lie or the germ of a superstate. It is slowly, haltingly assuming substance and consciousness. But, apart from the still nebulous United Nations, the present pattern of world politics is not national. The People‘s Republic of China calls itself multinational, which means nonnational. The Soviet Union is not a nation but a cluster of historical and cultural groups with — in theory, at least — a common ideal, and its component parts are not nations any more than our states are. Beyond its boundaries, the U.S.S.R. is seeking to establish ties with many Communist countries. It does not conceal the hope that tomorrow the world will accept its pattern and its way of life.
Ghana is planning a close union with Guinea — not conterminous, totally different in stock and traditions — and beyond that union, a Union of West Africa, a Union of Pan-Africa. In its flight from the evils of colonialism, and the far worse evils of tribalism, Ghana pays hasty lip service to the national idea but immediately proceeds beyond
On this wider plane of reference, the strictly national model — a tight territory with impregnable frontiers; with one government, one faith, one language, one culture — that unrealistic and unlovely Utopia, is fast losing significance. Leaders of Africa: nationalism is not in your normal line of development. You had a shop-soiled obsolete model foisted upon you. Many of you jump straight from the jungle trail to the jet plane; there is no reason why you should go through the stage of the early-nineteenth-century mail coach.
THE third idol is that of distinct autonomous, consistent, organic cultures. This conception blends confusedly with the national. Ideally, it would seem that every culture group has the right — we might almost say, the duty — to form a separate political state. Conversely, historical states attempt, in the teeth of evidence, to create cultural unity within their frontiers. The attempt failed egrcgiously in the case of the Hapsburg dominions. It is failing in the case of Spain, where Basque and Catalan regionalisms are repressed but not destroyed. It did succeed in France. Before the Revolution, the Bourbons had whittled down, without obliterating them altogether, all provincial differences. The Revolution hastened that process; the heavy centralized machinery of Napoleon almost completed it. The plain duty of Flemings, Alsatians, Lorrainers, ProvenÇaux, Corsicans, Basques, and Bretons was to speak, think, and feel as citizens of France, one and indivisible. The last resistance to that ruthless policy of assimilation was the autonomist movement in Alsace between the two world wars. In Algeria, this kind of integration has manifestly failed, perhaps because it was adopted too late, halfheartedly, and not quite honestly. In America, we call this confusion of the cultural and the political “hundredper-cent-ism” or loyalty to the American way of life. Anything that deviates from the thought of the late Senator McCarthy is branded as an unAmerican activity. In other countries, we call it totalitarianism. According to that creed, fostered by many anthropologists, every culture is a living entity. If you attempt to alter the pattern, you wound, and perhaps kill, that delicate and precious organism, the mores of the group, and its flower, the people‘ soul.
The idea of cultures has undeniable appeal. It gives pseudoscientific cohesiveness to a set of inchoate passions. And it is clothed in picturesque details. It is amusing to know how the Trobrianders behave, or what the coming of age means in Samoa. But modern anthropology, in its more ambitious moods, has turned into a mythology. This is no aspersion on the fact-finding work of many anthropologists, whether they study Muncie, Peyrane, or the Zuñi Indians.
There may be admirable research, and even cogent thinking, within the framework of doubtful hypotheses. The augurs and haruspices of antiquity; the necromancers and astrologers, who were still held in great respect at the height of the Renaissance; above all, the Ptolemaic astronomers were learned men. They had a vast store of facts at their disposal, and they could display admirable cogency in piecing these facts together — a skill worthy of the late Scholastic philosophers. But a true science is based on systematic doubt. It must be ready to examine fearlessly and to challenge every hard-and-fast theory instead of merely expounding it. Anthropology, psychoanalysis, and Marxism have yet to achieve the freedom of thought which, barely three hundred years ago, and not without strife, was achieved by medicine. Freud and Marx must be raised to the dignity of Hippocrates and Galen — impressive marble busts with blank eyes.
The myth of organic cultures may be richly adorned with entertaining facts. But, in its essence, it is contrary to facts. Even where the most rigid taboos prevail one hundred per cent, we know they have to be enforced, at times ruthlessly. When there is apparent conformity, we do not know how deep it goes, whether it is resented and breeds inner revolt, whether it is nullified in secret by ironical lip service, whether it is the result of torpid habit, superstition, or conscious, wholehearted acceptance. To take an obvious case, if we hear that the Mexicans are practically one hundred per cent Catholics, that gives us no clue to the realities of their religious experiences. For the same name and the same forms cover the enormous range from rankest superstition to loftiest mysticism, not to mention the most Voltairian rationalism. When, in an admirable encyclopedic book, Max Lerner attempts to define America as a civilization (here “culture” and “civilization” are practically synonymous), his key words are “pluralistic” and “dynamic”: America is made up of innumerable conflicting elements, and these are constantly changing, in various directions, at different rates. A great cultural epoch is one that ignores or deliberately strives to break the established patterns, so as to liberate man. When patterns are set, that means decay — late Scholasticism, pseudoclassicism, the epigoni of romanticism, those of naturalism, and, already, those of surrealism. If the primitives have been for ages the slaves of the same taboos, it only proves that they are groups struck with congenital senility.
If we are told that cannibalism, human sacrifices, slavery are part of the aeonial African pattern and therefore should be cherished for the self-respect and mental health of the Africans, we have the right to shrug our shoulders. Here again, Ghana, the pioneer, is pointing the way. It rejects the native cultures, which are tribal. I have seen pictures of a demonstration in Accra, with banners reading “Down with tribalism!” It is healthy for man to be ashamed of certain features in his past. Tribalism is not a foundation but an obstacle.
The belief in cultures is a superstition. It is ignoring, or attempting to suppress, the two essential facts in the study of man. The first is the infinite variety of individuals, which cannot be reduced to material patterns: a GI in uniform remained himself. No Nigerian is the exact, interchangeable replica of other Nigerians. Even individuality is not a pattern. Man strives to conform to the picture he has of himself or to the picture he believes the world has, but he cannot impose upon himself rigid consistency. Four centuries ago, Montaigne noted that man is “fluctuating and diverse.” The second fact, at the opposite pole, is that mankind, in every clime, in every age, has common aspirations: dignity, security, love, work, and play.
The present revolt of the non-European world is not a secession from mankind, not the denial of free universalism. It is not even the rejection of the European contribution to culture. If Africa is in ferment, it is not because the Europeans tried to Europeanize it; it is, I must repeat, because they failed to do so fast enough, thoroughly enough, generously enough. Africa will not have European mores forced upon it, because the manners and customs of Europe, like all forms of tradition, are a sign of collective arteriosclerosis. It is, of course, not essential that African judges should put on eighteenth-century wigs or that African society should wear tails and a white tie after dark, as they do, or did, in Mayfair. Africa has the right to transcend its own tribalism without adopting ours. And in that quest, there is a spirit, there are methods which are universal because they arc human. If by “culture” we mean the striving for selfexpression in art and thought Goethe’s conception, and it remains the best— then Europe shows no contempt for the fruit of African effort. Indeed — in sculpture, in particular — Paris and London have for several decades gone to West Africa for their inspiration. A connoisseur from Ouagadougou might well say of Epstein’s most characteristic work, “Not bad, but a trifle crude.”
THE fourth and most insidious fallacy is that of race. Here we find confusion worse confounded, both you, my African friends, and your supporters in America are at the same time on both sides of the fence, and neither you nor they seem to realize the absurdity of that position. Liberals throughout the world unite in fighting the color bar. They denounce unsparingly the Dixiecrats and the Boers, segregation and apartheid. They refuse to accept any longer the compromise “separate but equal.” For a fence creates a prison. They do not deny or even minimize physical or mental differences: there are Tom Thumbs and Primo Carneras, “balls of fat and bags of bones,” blondes and brunettes. There are blood types. There are fools and smart fellows, knaves and decent citizens, sinners and saints. But the humanists claim that no single trait or assembly of traits can create a priori an insuperable barrier between man and man — “a man‘s a man for a‘ that.” A man’s intrinsic worth, his fitness for a particular task, his desirability as a colleague, a friend, a mate do not depend on those hazy composite figures we call races.
The race question goes deeper than color. From Boulainvilliers and Gobineau to Vacher de Lapouge, from Daniel G. Brinton and Houston Stuart Chamberlain to Madison Grant, another horrific mythology was evolved. A European could be branded as inferior if he were brachycephalic (roundheaded), like the mathematician and philosopher Henri Poincaré; as Gertrude Atherton ingenuously put it, “You can’t get away from the cephalic index!” This mythology was exploded, I hope once and for all, by Jacques Barzun. But it has left traces in our federal statute book. Our immigration laws were cunningly rigged up so as to favor the “Great Race,” the noble Nordics, at the expense of the undesirable Alpines or CeltoSlavs and of the unreliable Mediterraneans. “This way Hitler lies” — that should be sufficient warning. The cream of the jest is that Hitler was not a Nordic.
Now, in this case, also, you Africans are following a doctrine not of your own devising, and you are adopting it just as it is fast losing caste. Once again, your attitude is guided by the crude assumption that two wrongs will make a right. Because there has been racial consciousness, exclusiveness, and pride on the part of the whites, you want to ape one of their most glaring errors. You should show us the way in transcending race feeling; instead, you are seeking an apartheid on your own terms, no less objectionable in principle than that of the Boers: “Africa [not North Africa, however] for the darkest skins alone! Better be killed by medicine men of our own color than cured by white doctors! Oust Albert Schweitzer, as a last remnant of the hated colonial regime!”
You work yourselves up into a belief that you must not think of yourselves as men but, first of all. as men of a particular color. This is exactly the reverse of what we are striving for in the United States. It is the reverse of what Brazil and France have almost achieved. Brazil is working deliberately for the emergence of cosmic man. The French do not feel virtuous because the quadroon Alexandre Dumas was not only a most successful romancer but a great social favorite, and his son a member of that most exclusive of clubs, the French Academy; because General Dodds was in command of an admirably conducted expedition; because Governor General Félix Eboué was a key man in the Free French movement and has won a place in the national pantheon; because Houphouet-Boigny has repeatedly been a cabinet minister, and Monnerville President of the French Senate. A man should think of himself as a human being and not as the member of a group, determined, without any choice, merit, or fault of his own, by some chance physical trait.
I can understand your temptation, but to understand is not to condone. Reaction against injustice all too easily takes the form of counterinjustice. The Socialist-Communist anthem, The International, proclaims: “The world’s basis is going to change. We were nothing: let us be everything.” This is a reflex: we were hit, let us hit back. But it is not wisdom. Nor is it realistic.
I was bitterly disappointed by the attitude of Léopold Senghor, teacher, writer, and political leader, who has risen from the tribalism of Africa to the humanism of Paris and who now speaks of “Negro consciousness,” of the obligation to think and feel as a Negro. I know him only through his brilliant career. I take it for granted that he is sincere, that his racialism is not a mere political trick against possible rivals. I find something of the same problem in myself. I do not believe in social classes; I praise America and Russia impartially for proclaiming themselves classless societies. But so long as classes exist in the minds of the privileged, I take my stand with La Bruyère: “If it comes to a choice, I want to be one of the people.” Africans have the right to tell the Europeans “Mend or end,” or, in coarser terms, “Step down or get out.” But the alternative must remain open. Senghor’s attitude is valid, in the quarrels of the moment, against the French Dixiecrats. It is not valid against those Frenchmen in the tradition of Michelet, Hugo, Jaurès, who spurn the race idea altogether. Senghor belongs with them, and he should be against those who assert, “My race über alles! My race right or wrong!”
I have sought to warn you against the continental, the national, the cultural, the racial fallacies that beset you. Any victory you might win on these grounds will exact a heavy price. It will force you to mutilate your own culture, in the nobler sense of the term, by rejecting natural and profitable cooperation, by overemphasizing minor differences. You will be led into totalitarian tyrannies, for fallacies cannot brook discussion, they must be enforced. It is the truth alone — the quest for the truth — that makes you free.
I am still wholeheartedly with you, because what you are fighting for, under equivocal and antiquated banners, is the great humanistic ideal. First of all, we must reject privilege, for privilege is but a legal mask for injustice. This is but the negative aspect of the universal aspiration for liberty, equality, fraternity. I know these Jeffersonian words elicit a smile. Vague, empty promises, old-fashioned, naïve, fit only for that quaint creature “the egghead with starry eyes.” No, they are not blueprints, but lodestars. They are of use only as incentives and guides to definite, practical action. And that action must be immediate, “with all deliberate speed,” but it must also be patient, laborious, unremitting. It is easy to adopt a hard-and-fast system, with a proper set of shibboleths, that will excuse us from further thinking. It is easy and dramatic to substitute one tyranny for another, one racial pride for another. For a moment, there seems to be an apocalyptic change of scene; it looks as though “the world were going to change its basis,” as though a new heaven and a new earth were at hand. The curtain falls; when it rises again we discover anew the ancient wisdom of Ecclesiastes, “Plus ça change, plus c‘est la même chose.” What we need is no half-demented “Excelsior!” mood, but constant, humble, plodding striving for the right. The right is practical because it is farsighted. In that perspective, the problem is not “Are you for the whites or for the blacks?” but “What is best for men?”