It is unfortunate that the title of this book is misleading - all of the included pieces are prepared lectures rather than pure essays. These lectures were delivered as Bernanos traveled across the Francophone world in the decade following the Second World War, and are inseparable from that context. His self-appointed task was to reawaken in the French people a consciousness of their historical vocation, and to encourage confidence in European civilization on a broken continent. As he saw it, the mission of Europe, and France especially, was to assert the primacy of humane and spiritual values against the opposing materialisms of the US and USSR.
Bernanos holds forth, not as an economist or sociologist or politician, still less as a philosopher or theologian, but as a novelist, against what he sees as the dehumanizing forces unleashed by inhuman ideologies which depend upon machines and techniques which can make life easier but not happier. He denounces faith in progress as a form of cowardice, an abnegation of personal responsibility in favor of deference to mass opinion. He hoped for a respiritualization of Europe which would arrest the decomposition of civilization. He sought to rouse the French to struggle against those who demanded the amputation of man's highest faculties in order to make him fit to live in a mechanized society.
Needless to say, he failed.
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