Georges Sorel

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Georges Sorel, early 20th century

Georges Eugène Sorel (2 November 1847 – 29 August 1922) was a French philosopher and theorist of Sorelianism. His notion of the power of myth in people's lives inspired anarchists, Marxists, and Fascists. It is, together with his defense of violence, the contribution for which he is most often remembered.


  • I have no reason to suppose that Lenin gained his ideas from my books; but if that were true, I should be not a little proud of having contribute to the intellectual development of a man who seems to me to be at once the greatest theoretician of socialism since Marx and a statesman whose genius recalls that of Peter the Great.
  • Lenin may be proud of what his comrades are doing; the Russian workers are acquiring immortal glory in attempting the realization of what hitherto had been only an abstract idea…..
  • Mussolini is a man no less extraordinary than Lenin. He, too, is a political genius, of a greater reach than all the statesmen of the day, with the only exception of Lenin…
    • As quoted in The Myth of the Nation and the Vision of Revolution: The Origins of Ideological Polarization in the 20th Century, Jacob L. Talmon, University of California Press (1981) p. 451. Sorel’s March 1921 conversations with Jean Variot, published in Variot’s Propos de Georges Sorel, (1935) Paris, pp. 53-57, 66-86 passim
  • Mussolini is not an ordinary socialist. You will perhaps see him one day as a leader of a consecrated battalion, saluting the flags of Italy with his sword. He is an Italian of the fifteenth century, a condottiere. He is the only man with the strength to correct the weakness of the government.
    • As quoted in The Genesis of Georges Sorel, James H. Meisel, Ann Arbor, Wahr (1951), p. 220, n.21
  • Engels feared that the Socialists, in order to gain adherents in the electoral struggles rapidly, would make promises which were contrary to Marxist doctrine. The antisemites told the peasants and the small shopkeepers that they would protect them from the development of capitalism. Engels thought that an imitation of this procedure would be dangerous, since, in his opinion, the social revolution could only be realised when capitalism had almost completely destroyed the small proprietors and small industries; if the Socialists, then, endeavoured to hinder this evolution, they would ultimately compromise their own cause.
    • Reflections on Violence, London: UK, George Allen & Unwin, (reprinted in Saxony 1925) p. 180
  • All the future of socialism resides in the autonomous development of workers’ syndicates.
    • As quoted in Essays in Political Philosophy, Vidya Dhar Mahajan, Doaba House, Lahore, 1943 p. 41

Reflections on Violence (1908)


Cambridge University Press, 1999

  • [Myths] are not descriptions of things, but expressions of a determination to act… A myth cannot be refuted since it is, at bottom, identical with the convictions of a group, being the expression of these convictions in the language of movement.
    • p. 28-29 (Letter to Daniel Halevy)
  • Revolutionary syndicalism keeps alive the desire to strike in the masses and only prospers when important strikes, accompanied by violence, take place.
    • p. 39
  • And so I am not concerned to justify the perpetrators of violence but to enquire into the function of the violence of the working classes in contemporary socialism.
    • p. 42
  • Everyone explains that discussions about Socialism are exceedingly obscure; this obscurity is due, to a large extent, to the fact that contemporary socialists use a terminology which no longer corresponds to their ideas.
    • p. 47
  • It is very difficult to understand proletarian violence as long as we try to think in terms of the ideas disseminated by bourgeois philosophy; according to this philosophy, violence is a relic of barbarism which is bound to disappear under the progress of enlightenment.
    • p. 65
  • Thus proletarian violence has become an essential factor in Marxism. Let us add once more that, if properly conducted, it will have the result of suppressing parliamentary socialism, which will no longer be able to pose as the leader of the working classes and as the guardian of order.
    • p. 79
  • Proletarian violence, carried on as a pure and simple manifestation of the sentiment of class struggle, appears thus as a very fine and heroic thing; it is at the service of the immemorial interests of civilization; it is not perhaps the most appropriate method of obtaining immediate material advantages, but it may save the world from barbarism.
    • p. 85
  • We have the right to conclude from this that syndicalist violence, perpetrated in the course of strikes by proletarians who desire the overthrow of the State, must not be confused with the acts of savagery which the superstition of the State suggested to the revolutionaries of 1793 when they had power in their hands and were able to oppress the conquered – following the principles which they had received from the Church and from the monarchy.
    • p. 108
  • We must not always attach too much importance to violent attacks on the bourgeoisie; they may be motivated by the desire to reform and to perfect capitalism.
    • p. 125
  • As the State formerly played a most important part in the revolutions that abolished the old economic systems, so it must again be the State that should abolish capitalism.
    • p. 170
  • Existing social conditions favour the production of an infinite number of acts of violence and there has been no hesitation in urging the workers not to refrain from brutality when this might do them service.
    • p. 183
  • It seems that it was the Jews who had entered the revolutionary movement who are primarily responsible for the terroristic measures blamed upon the bolsheviks. This hypothesis appears to me to be all the more reasonable given that the intervention of the Jews in the Hungarian Soviet Republic has not been a happy one.
    • p. 290

Quotes about Sorel

  • Sorel the Dreyfusard eventually developed into a bitter anti-semite, calling upon Europe to defend itself against the Jewish peril in the same way as America fought the Yellow peril; he blamed the Chekist terror on the Jewish members of the Bolshevik party.
    • Jacob Talmon, "The Myth of the Nation and the Vision of Revolution: The Origins of Ideological Polarization in the 20th Century ", University of California Press, 1981, p. 474
  • In ignoring the important fundamental contribution of the followers of Marx, and by insisting exclusively on the phenomenon of superficial adaptation and variation, Sorel passed in silence over all that was healthy, live and fruitful in the Marxist doctrine.
  • I owe most to Georges Sorel. This master of syndicalism by his rough theories of revolutionary tactics has contributed most to form the discipline, energy and power of the fascist cohorts.
    • Benito Mussolini, as quoted in The New Inquisitions: Heretic-Hunting and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Totalitarianism, Arthur Versluis, Oxford University Press (2006) p. 39.
  • The nascent Fascist ideology derived its initial basic content from the syndicalist-nationalist synthesis. This synthesis would not have been possible without the original contribution of Sorel, Sorel who had preached hatred for the heritage of the eighteenth century, for Voltaire and Rousseau, for the French Revolution, for rationalism and optimism, for liberal democracy and bourgeois society;…
    • Zeev Sternhell, with Mario Sznajder, Maia Asheri, "The Birth of Fascist Ideology: From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution", Princeton: NJ, Princeton University Press (1994) p. 90
  • Sorel supported this opinion and threw himself into a long and violent anti-Semitic campaign. He signed a long article in praise of Urbain Gohier, the most celebrated living anti-Semite, whom he encouraged to continue ‘maintaining that the French must defend their state, their customs, and their ideas against the Jewish invaders who want to dominate everything.’
    • Zeev Sternhell, with Mario Sznajder, Maia Asheri, "The Birth of Fascist Ideology: From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution", Princeton: NJ, Princeton University Press (1994) p. 85
  • Sorel declared that Marx’s theory was ‘the greatest innovation in philosophy for centuries; it was the starting point of a fruitful transformation in our form of speculation. All our ideas must concentrate round the new principles of scientific socialism.’
    • Zeev Sternhell, with Mario Sznajder, Maia Asheri, "The Birth of Fascist Ideology: From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution", Princeton: NJ, Princeton University Press (1994) p. 39
  • For this reason Socialists of higher quality and conservative ways of thinking, like Lassalle, supporter of monarchy, and Georges Sorel, who looked upon the defense of fatherland, family, and property as the noblest task of the proletariat are difficult to reconcile with Marx and are therefore never quoted according to their true intent.
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