The Left and Henri Bergson

Abstract

This article studies the polarizing role Henri Bergson played in twentieth-century political theory in France and beyond. A controversial and charismatic philosopher, Bergson’s thought traveled a notoriously convoluted itinerary. Though his critiques of scientific positivism before the First World War endeared him to Catholic intellectuals, sectors of the French left were his most committed interpreters, a fact that mystified and enraged his contemporaries. Tracing the assorted ways the left took up Bergson—from syndicalism to négritude—brings into focus the left’s historically bipolar relationship to scientific progress and its promise of emancipation. It also underscores something fundamental about the history of the twentieth-century left: It maintained an ideologically unpredictable yet indispensable concern for “lived experience.”

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Acknowledgements

For their help, I thank Eric Brandom, Judith Grant, and Michelle Weitzel. Thanks also to Jen Fredette for her editorial advice and to Adriana Alfaro Altamirano, who later revealed herself as a reviewer. This article is dedicated to the memory of Isaac Kramnick.

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Duong, K. The Left and Henri Bergson. Fr Polit 18, 359–379 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41253-020-00130-w

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Keywords

  • Henri Bergson
  • The left
  • Lived experience
  • French political thought