Sociology Index

Georges Eugène Sorel

Georges Eugène Sorel (2 November 1847 – 29 August 1922) was a French social thinker, political theorist, historian, and later journalist. Georges Eugène Sorel has inspired theories and movements grouped under the name of Sorelianism. His social and political philosophy owed much to his reading of Proudhon, Karl Marx, Giambattista Vico, Henri Bergson, and William James. His notion of the power of myth in collective agency inspired socialism, anarchism, Marxism, and Fascism. Together with his defense of violence, it is the contribution for which he is most often remembered. Georges Eugène Sorel figures among eminent sociologists of the world.

Politically Georges Eugène Sorel evolved from his early liberal-conservative positions towards Marxism, social-democracy, and eventually syndicalism. Between 1909 and 1910 he was marginally involved with Charles Maurras' Action Française, and between 1911 and 1913 he wrote for the politically transversal L'Indépendance, established together with Edouard Berth, one of Sorel's main disciples, and Georges Valois, closer to Maurrassian circles. After a long silence during the war, Sorel came out in favour of Lenin and moved towards Bolshevist positions until his death in 1922.

His legacy in the interwar period embraced both ends of the political spectrum, as many former syndicalists welcomed the emerging fascism. According to historian Zeev Sternhell, Sorel's revision of Marxism broke the necessity of the link between revolution and working class, opening up the possibility of replacing the proletariat with the national community. Ferociously opposed to the 1914 Union sacrée political truce, Sorel denounced the war and in 1917 praised the Russian Revolution. He was in print for an official Soviet Union publication, Russian Soviet Government Bureau, calling Lenin "the greatest theoretician of socialism since Marx and a statesman whose genius recalls that of Peter the Great." - Georges Sorel, "For Lenin," Soviet Russia, Official Organ of The Russian Soviet Government Bureau, Vol. II, New York.

According to the Maurrassian intellectual Jean Variot, in March 1921 Sorel confided to him that "Mussolini is a man no less extraordinary than Lenin. He, too, is a political genius, of a greater reach than all the statesmen of the day, with the only exception of Lenin…" - Jacob L. Talmon, The Myth of the Nation and the Vision of Revolution: The Origins of Ideological Polarization in the 20th Century, University of California Press (1981). Associated with an heroic, apocalyptic, and ultimately aesthetic Marxism, Sorel is by some thought more as a thinker of decadence. Analysis of his engagement with Marx show him to be preoccupied more with the epistemological subtleties of historical materialism than with an impending moral collapse. Absorbing the twin influences of Henri Bergson and Italian idealists, Sorel elaborated a Marxism rejecting economic and historical determinism, and seeing itself not as social science but as an historically-situated ideology.