Ecological Personalism: The Bordeaux School of Bernard Charbonneau and Jacques Ellul

Ethical Perspectives 6 (1):33-44 (1999)
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French personalism is a political philosophy generally associated with the review “Esprit” founded by Emmanuel Mounier in 1932, although another branch is also known, that of the review “L’Ordre Nouveau” (1933-1938). This article identifies a third version, fostered in Southwestern France by Bernard Charbonneau and Jacques Ellul in the local groups of the two Paris-based reviews. Working within the framework of the “Amis d’Esprit,” they broke away from it after having failed to turn it into a non-conformist revolutionary movement, closer in many ways to “L’Ordre Nouveau.” Yet this Gascon group differed from both “O.N.” and “Esprit” by being based on a radical critique of technology and industrial society grounded in “feeling for Nature as a revolutionary force,” to quote the title of a 1937 manifesto by Charbonneau, one of many texts where with Ellul he formulated — probably for the first time — a new revolutionary political orientation beyond Right and Left, the outlines of what would decades later come to be known as political ecology, of which this Bordeaux School of personalism can be seen as an early and influential component that was long unacknowleged as such. This enables a comparison of three schools of French personalism as an alternative political movement (as opposed to purely philosophical or politically mainstream version such as Jacques Maritain's Neo-Thomist one). The personal creativity that Ordre Nouveau's societal federalists sought to liberate by disentangling it from impersonal though indispensable processes should probably be thought of in wider terms than those they stressed, if it is not to play into the hands of technocracy. It should include as well, not only the personal scale low-tech and manual activities dear to the Bordeaux School, but also the relational skills of community building that were central to Esprit’s Christian project of a personalist city. The latter in turn runs the risk of functioning as an ideological placebo to hastily justify collectivistic aspects of modernization in the name of nation- or world-wide “community”, if it fails to pay close enough attention to issues of human scale and to the role of Technique, as federalists and ecologists well saw. For I have found that all three schools of French personalism have important contributions to make to contemporary debates such as that of the changing role of leisure, work and labor in post-industrial society, provided they are read in an ecumenical spirit that allows their contrasting insights to come together, so as to throw into sharp relief all possible angles (from the value and perils of collective belonging and elemental sharing to self-realization versus individual alienation) of that inexhaustible personal reality on which they all focus.



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The Political Theory of Personalism: Maritain and Mounier on Personhood and Citizenship.Dries4 Deweer - 2013 - International Journal of Philosophy and Theology 74 (2):108-126.

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