Calvinism, which would imprint its image on an entire epoch, is a typical example. It shows how religion is put into the service of the profane world and how it is possible to even sanctify exterior and material success with the aid of the specific and transcendent contents of religion. Success is a sign of the blessing of God upon the work. Under this angle, politics has an easy game to justify itself equally before all the metaphysical needs of man. Thus by obtaining results it realizes the sense of the world and shows that divine providence has dictated it. Its success confirms that. Who, in these circumstances, can reproach the means – even the most daring and misleading – which serve to assure his success?
In the present case, politics is undeniably considered from the point of religion. However, one feels that this point of view does not correspond to the nature of politics. It enlightens political evil and at the same time is in contradiction with its proper religious character. The discord between the political object and religious enlightenment is evident.
Yet, there are cases where this discord practically disappears. It disappears when a grand statesman is at work. We have already noted that his relation to morality is particular and exceptional. By acting with the function of responsibility for his people, he reduces to silence the requirements of ethics and annuls, on certain occasions, the scales of moral values. His relation to the religious idea is sometimes incomparably very positive. The great statesmen are always considered as instruments of destiny. They feel that unsearchable forces operate in them. They believe that mysterious powers push them towards unknown destinations. They see themselves as blind creatures of a superior will dominating all things here below. Their sentiment of dependence and of “being conducted” is a veritable religious phenomenon. Political action – o how shocking in particular cases – unfolds itself in a religious atmosphere. With an unswerving confidence, the statesman “knows” that he is the “servitor of God.” He ignores the doubts and lives with the certainty of being in accord with God. The religiosity of Bismarck was of that type of naive and childlike piety. The ensemble of acts is presented as a mission given by God. Insufficiency, the doubting character must be considered in the same manner as the imperfection of that world that God himself created.
But equally in this case, politics in not the realization of the religious idea whose reign is not of this world. Politics always follows its proper law. In the present case, the sole participation consists of the fact that politics evolves in an atmosphere and imagination of religious ideas. But despite all, politics and religion remain foreign to one another and objectively incompatible. There divergence is irremediable, even if in the conscience of the statesman it appears to be suppressed. The personal conviction made by the master does not suffice to put it there.
He must very well admit it: characters so different and incompatible as there are between them, have shown, from all evidence, that religious ideas are not political ideas. Between religion and the tendencies of political reality, there are no elective affinities. It is a fact to which one must resign himself. In these conditions, one comprehends the weakness of this type of idea before political events. But that is not to say that the question of knowing to what measure ideas influence politics is resolved. Are there not, in a particular and very precise sense, political ideas, which are ideas that, according to their origins, their orientation, and their contents, live and evolve in the world of politics?
These ideas, could they not be the forces that guide, the examples that inflame, the models of political reality? History shows us the explosive and elementary force that is inherent in these ideas, they represent the first cause and veritable motor of evolution. We know these beacons: liberty and equality, progress and civilization, international peace and rapprochement between peoples, the right of self-determination and the sovereignty of the people, the war to end war, security and natural borders. It means that ideas announce of the new currents of the epoch.
But one can pose the question of knowing whether ideas create this current or if they only reflect it, if they are only images anticipating the objectives of the current.
Are they primitive forces producing effects or states, forms of conscience in which these currents will attain a figurative readability, an objective clarity of their proper contents? The hot breath, the ardor of ideas emanates from them or are they only the reflection of an irresistible power that resides in the currents of the epoch?
When do we speak of vague or chimeric ideas? We do it when they have no place in reality. In this case, the idea cannot convince: it is only a game of the spirit, that is combined amongst many others. When does it incarnate, acquiring this suggestive force, the persuasive power, this mysterious seduction, and even this success, this brightness that illuminates from far away and points to it, in short, all the grand fascinating qualities that characterize living ideas marking an epoch? That happens when the real conditions begin to change, in the fashion of preparing the adjustment of tensions by a discharge or explosion, when these elements transform themselves.
These processes are the causes that reside in the same reality: social dislocations, which are the consequences of technological revolutions, new economic structures, and displacements of political power such that the need to change is provoked in man. A traditional state is determined by a stable social, economic, and political order which relies on customs and right. But the essential conditions of this order no longer exist. The orientation of life, which formerly established this order, has changed. The scales of value are no longer the same. The order no longer corresponds to the new criteria. The feeling of life which colored it has changed, no longer recognizing it as the form of expression that it could be. This order is then considered as a shell, resented as a prison. Thus, it should cause numerous unsustainable frictions. These provoke feelings of refusal and cravings for destruction. These pressures produce contrary pressures and give birth to a will to overthrow the order. Its defense is founded on the inertia of all that lasts, but the source of the force which renews itself no longer springs forth. Consequently, the influx of demanding new currents opens bit by bit the prejudices of the established order. It becomes crumbly, crumbling until one day, it will collapse or will be demolished by violence and tumult.
All these processes, which unfold in reality, are, quite surely, anticipated by the conscience. That which exists is firstly defeated by the spirit before collapsing in reality. The principle that gives it its sense, is denied, its value contested. The political idea is the anticipation of conscience of the real abolition of the existing state. In taking form, it becomes at the same time a norm for a new interpretation. It is equally the premonition of a different explanation of things which then struggles to be recognized. As the product of the mobile spirit, it proceeds far from the slow evolution of reality. As it is always in advance, one has the impression that it causes reality, as if it were the veritable locomotive force of history. But in fact, the political idea is only the graphic image of that which happens in things, of what happens to them. It is not a primitive image, existing since eternity and which, endowed with a mysterious force of attraction, pushes reality, in the course of centuries, to adapt itself to it. Certainly, as the graphic formula, it directs man, it is why flags float on the fields of battle. It gives explanations, helps to clearly see the situation and poses as a man, who can only see through what it means, before the task of having to decide by the function of the conditions of nature and the peculiarities of his being. It the sign which, by the fact of its visible, present being, provokes decisions. That is where its real significance resides. Nevertheless, the powers that it puts in ranks, are not the cause of this little flag, which before us, floats in the breeze. The motions are found in themselves. The unfolding of events is exclusively determined by the state of things, by the tensions inherent in reality.
The “force” of an idea and its obligatory character, which gives to man the conviction of “having to serve it”, announces that the state of things is ripe for change. It equally permits the knowledge of what extent the existing order is already weakened, near capitulation, and no longer stable and durable enough to convince itself, by its sole existence, of its unwavering strength.
Political ideas anticipate, explain, and clarify the state of things, but they equally mask them. Certainly, they are the reflection of an objective evolution, and in particular, they indicate the direction of existing movements, but they are modeled, in great part, by the force of imagination and the passion of human desires. Too easily, one takes them for original images, faithful and just, of future reality. By viewing them, one believes to perceive directly what reality will be. Thus when reality uniquely evolves according to the laws that are inherent to it, one falls into the error of believing that it feels engaged by an original image and that its veritable motive force is the desire to conform itself to this image. It may even be that the idea idea becomes an obstacle that prevents and complicates the understanding of reality. Then, it is no longer the reflection of facts, it is only the dressing covering reality, posing itself as “before it.” It is only an image behind which is hidden a very different existence.
That is the characteristic of the idea: to be the dressing that covers and hides, but which, at the same time, is convincing. And it is that – as experience teaches us – which gives it a considerable importance in the domain of politics. The indispensable conditions for the success of a political enterprise require that it is “born aloft” by ideas, that is appears as the “realization of an idea.”