The Mission Of A Generation, 1928

Creative time, the one that does not make history, is not homogenous and equal. It is not divided according to calendars and clocks. It is rather an alternation of shadow and light in periods of uneven lengths. Now, an impetuous outburst of assertion, of tension and of work. Then, calm, indifference and nightmare: brave generations and then weak generations, lacking character and vigor. Péguy was right to make the distinction between periods and ages. It is no doubt a sign of our time that spiritual alliances between individuals are no longer built according to relations of vicinity in space, but according to affinities and simultaneity in time. A generation is the society without visible laws of the people of the same age. A century means as many spiritual acquisitions as the number of generations it had. Progress is measured according to the destiny of these people born almost at the same time. And they have their own programme, action and responsibility. As for tastes, criteria, favorite authors, the attitudes are quite the same, except for what each of them brings as their own in terms of experience or mental structure. There is an indivisible fortune which belongs to everybody. And the ones that come after have the right to ask for the accounts to be checked. A generation cannot understand itself in its first manifestations, when it has just made contact, once entered in its adolescence, with the anxious world of the life that was flowing into it, stepping undecidedly to find its way. But after years of self-control, of continuous comparison and confrontation with others, of disillusions and triumphs, the spiritual group of the people of the same age starts to understand. A generation presupposes a critique that is a resistance and a programme of ideas and feelings. Born in the last years of the past century, we opened our eyes wide and amazed upon the world at war. A little while before and a little after. The people that preceded us had a certain way of being. They were involved in a way in the optimism of the most creative of centuries, the one that had been theirs. It was then that exact science and its practical applications had triumphed for a while. And people were pleased with their success. Many, very many things were seen through the positivist looking-glass, according to that perspective that pretends not to see the unsolvable and tormenting problems, overlooks them, claiming they were uninteresting, through a hypocritical and artificial interdiction, so that they themselves in their turn would not trouble, with their horror for ghosts, the peace of these indolent and dutiful bourgeois of knowledge. Because they had succeeded in having electricity, automobiles, cinemas and American boots, because the continent was full of factories, hotels and trams, God had been humiliated, defeated, exiled in the useless azure of the sky, the metaphysical question covered with naphthalene in a trunk, the aspiration towards risk and heroism repaid with an indulgent smile, just like its sisters, the crinoline and the coach, and as them, just as lovely and ridiculous. In short, the commonsensical and always optimistic scientism had reduced the infinite – terrifying for Pascal – to a modest dimension, easily measurable and mechanically explicable. Everything was cause and effect, proportioned according to mathematical determinism. This universal mechanism could be understood only with clear reason, freed from the hideous idols that were terrorizing it. Our ancestors believed, without reserve, in Darwin, in Spencer, in Haeckel, in Comte and Marx. Those times were over when we came forth. It was believed then that civilization, made of technique, science, freedom and capitalism will be forever perfecting itself. Human happiness, in democratic freedom, in capitalist improvement, in scientific enrichment, will keep growing unimpeded. But humankind, which has in itself an absurd and capricious demon, suddenly got fed up with so much calm and satisfaction, with such equilibrium and hope. A lot of hypochondriac critics rose then and asked for something else. A terrible storm was stirred then which messed up the elements again. Our generation manifests its creed in two main requests: anti-scientism and the idea of order. Everywhere where a youth fights, it fights for these beliefs. Let's examine them one by one, analyzing their meaning and value in the context of our country, if possible. We were witnesses, as adolescents, to the gradual increase of knowledge. The idea, the only instrument of perceiving reality, the abstract idea, reduced to a hideous skeleton, sterilized by the formal abuses of logics, the idea devoid of life, immaterial ghost of pure essences, as a logician Voltaire would have wanted it, started, as early as the second half of the last century, to be less admired. Reason became more human, for in its pure form it enclosed only cruelty or mortal indifference. Its flames were slowly consuming the grain of life. Terrified by the unearthly conclusions of his mind, Pasteur wrote: "J'ai demandé grace à ma raison". This eternal and cold divinity was taken down from its pedestal. The contemporary soul found her other companions: instinct, feeling, intuition, less infallible, but closer to life, gentler, more humane, more alive. The excessive common-sense, the critique always awake, the severe discipline softened, unleashing the life they were stifling. Under our very eyes, people become less polite, less balanced, less wise, less prudent, but more enthusiastic, more unpredictable, more spontaneous, more daring. If the scientific generation was serious and balanced to the extreme, our generation became more restless and freer. Science was without a doubt, a starting point, and a supporting pillar, but we do not consider it as our purpose anymore. Nobody believed in its flawless might. Unknown and mysterious parts sneaked in among us again. The elements that surrounded us, in a kaleidoscopic variation, were too many, and their combinations were infinite, so we could not consider all of them as being predictable with the aid of a pencil on paper. Acknowledging the complexity implicitly led to the acknowledgement of hazard, which is God's other name. As a result of this state of mind, we found in the air a little metaphysical modesty as well. There was no longer the optimism of the people from the time of the 1848 revolution and their Boeotian self-sufficiency of the powers of the intellect. Spontaneity, liberty, complexity, unpredictability providing for the wide field of the infinite, from which hardly a small garden was cultivated after the methods of science. But even over its flimsy wicker fence one could see the blue endless horizon. We took all these into account sometimes against our will. But all tendencies have their exaggerations and their false myths. Because reason called intuition, feeling and instinct to its aid, it didn't mean necessarily that one had to announce its death. And because hazard was becoming as important as determinism, mystery as important as what was known, it didn't necessarily mean that intellectuality is a shame, and that all that claims itself from a dubious occultism must be shattered. The snobs of our generation started speaking only of theosophy, metaphysics, theology, mysticism, etc. They gave up, without being forced to, all the goods of the mind. They are forever invoking a Romanian theology that does not exist. They suddenly ceased to judge and started to comply with the platitudes of the time. They have been forever delirious without a reason, even when they happened to be mere robust and lucid scientific minds. If we are not, we will not become religious in one day, because the fashion demands so. There appeared all of a sudden in our country doctors in theology and dark inquisitors. The masquerade was starting to compromise the right acquisitions of the time. I have discussed elsewhere this sad fraud which we can by no means consider otherwise. The liberation of the whole soul from the excessive reign of reason had brought over a certain exuberance, a sort of youthfulness. Gradually a new idol was created: the notion of life. Everybody, even the helpless, wanted to prove they had character. We all had to be restless, mad with force, and vividness. The calmest people suddenly started to frolic. Vividness turned into violence and violence into brutality and rudeness. Invoking Nietzsche and Bergson, the young neophytes started to devastate and smash heads all around. But there is nothing gloomier in a country without enough culture, than this vitalism. The thin layer of civilization that the past generation struggled to build for us was smashed in an instant. A hideous barbarity rises everywhere in the young. Everything that means civilization: kindness, objectivity, politeness, respect, thoughtfulness, is denounced as either old-fashioned or impotent. These young barbarians, protected theoretically by a false interpretation of the modern philosophy, have long lost any scruple of taste and decency. The grosser the insult is, and the greater the nonsense, the crasser the ignorance, the more delighted they are. They despise civilization and its goods, because of its technical aspect, comfortable and mediocre –they say. They want to replace it with culture, which is an original and spontaneous attitude of the soul, above comfort, technique, and above the democratization of the spiritual values. They despise objectivity and they want to replace it with a haughty and personal subjectivism. In a tone of vulgar insult, the imbecile teenagers swear from morning till dawn at obvious values and merits, so that they might give off the illusion of force and youthfulness. But who does not recognize here the grafting of a fashion onto a background of lack of culture and barbarity. To this blind claim of instincts by some base fellows that falsify the ideas of the time in order to make up excuses for their native savagery, some of us, from our generation, will know how to respond. So, it has been a while since a new dualism was invented here: civilization and culture. The former is despised for its mechanization and mediocrity. If this means culture, then we are for civilization. What our people, which seeks justice and freedom, needs is not the subjective over-temperamental "culture" of some young person, seized by the restlessness of an upstart. We don't need prophets, Nitzscheans, desperate and original men of letters, isolated artists; ideologues with funny and interesting parti pris. If this is the "culture" of the soul, we prefer the more modest civilization of the matter. What our people lacks is liberty, roads, justice and clean streets. We need a few men of character and a few thousand systematic water closets. We can dispense with literary attitudes which are delicious in their capricious and zestful subjectivism. We do not need luxury when we do not have the minimum necessities. We do not need caprice, when we do not have normality. This people needs to be transformed in a human way in its profound layers. This is what today's youths need to understand. Vitality, energy, yes. But in the service of civilization. Aggressive barbarity does not automatically spell youth. Baseness and swearing do not mean temperament. Being twenty does not mean one cannot have nobility, generosity, common sense. That energy can be sweet, that is what our youth cannot understand. It is said that youth is the time when we admire and we humiliate ourselves. It is the time of delicacy of the soul, of virginal bashfulness, of adoration, of curiosity, of philosophic shyness in front of the infinite, of generous and philanthropic élans, of abnegation and of love for people. Let's stimulate our forces and our ideals. Let's not believe only in criticism and reason especially because our people, disappointed by century-long illusions, is bent on skepticism and slyness. To be pure and enthusiastic, to have imagination, warmth and romanticism, but not to fall because of this into profanation and banditry. The intellectual order must be left alone. Otherwise we are heading towards obscurantism, and that is precisely what is not needed by our people, unenlightened in its masses, or superficially enlightened in what is called, with indulgence most of the times, its elite. Let's not hate the information and the spirit of objectivity that science, which is so necessary to us, provides. In order to justify subjectivism one needs genius. And that is not given to any student or self-taught man that smelled the scent of two or three thin books. The game is dangerous and it is not meant for everybody to succeed. The geniuses are only two or three in a century. Intellectual discipline will come through patient subjection to objectivity, which is the work of reason. Add to this feeling, instinct, intuition, whatever you like. But do not destroy it, because our liberation from the dark will come only through it. Let's harvest everything that civilization has invented on its way and apply it here, in a conscious and hard-working way. Does it seem to you that our people is inveterate in slyness? We are left with the fight by ethical means. Here we need forces of affectivity and sympathy, youth and fight. Here we need a lot of moral martyrdom. The disaster is that everybody tells themselves: "à qui le premier?" Each one awaits for his fellow to start. In the moral sphere, you apply all the affectivist teachings. But there, I know it well, it is much harder. It is easier to battle against reason, lucidity, and critical spirit in violent articles of superb philosophic theory. But it is infinitely harder to come forth in the practical domain. So many young people, sublime in their adoration for life's buoyancy, would not risk their commodity one bit, in order to protest against injustice, against a favor and against an illegal deed. On the contrary, most of the time they turn into the soldiers of all exploiters and pretend not to see, absent-minded, the obvious and unbearable injustices. Our generation, if it feels any call at all, will have to fight the battle on the ethical grounds. It will have to fight desperately against Byzantinism, Phanariotism, slyness, skepticism and mocking joviality with which our Romanians get easily over the most tragic situations. We claim, for the honor of this people, a little of the tragic sentiment of existence and a little conscious bitterness instead of the sinister work that exhausts our energies with cheerful indifference and callous ineptness. The main idea, the second imperative of our generation, must be made clear as well, sheltered from the heresies that falsify it.Mancunian liberalism in its excessive form leads to anarchy. The second half of the 19th century witnessed everywhere the slow ruin and the replacement of liberalism in all countries, even in its country of origin, England. "Laisser faire, laisser passer" in its absolute forms died everywhere. It was a nice dream, and, up to a point, an unattainable one. The possibility of absolute freedom for the individual, like the one Renan and Faguet dreamt of, was a generous utopia. The nations felt the need to close the lines in collective discipline. The need for solidarity appeared instead of the liberal disorder. Apart from this, "laisser faire" meant, most of the times, the freedom of the most powerful to exploit the weak. Let's patiently and thoughtfully ponder over all these conclusions. A generation should not be too bent on a single direction. Its resistance to some deviations is just as precious as its creative impetus.

by Mihail Ralea (1896-1964)