By Brian Rigby (eds.)
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Additional resources for French Literature, Thought and Culture in the Nineteenth Century: A Material World
On the same reading, the new institutions went through such a succession of different political 32 French Literature, Thought and Culture forms (three Republics, two Empires, two Monarchies) during a brief historical period that the education system assumed the additional role of securing stability and continuity within the bourgeois State in all its manifestations. Such a reading goes a long way to explain why education has for two hundred years been such a sensitive political issue in France.
This was important for the relation to Nature. Alienation from Nature accompanied the alienation of the individual from society. The reintegration of the individual into a reorganised, harmonious community required the fashioning of a new, shared understanding of Nature. The collective spirit would pass over into Nature, into otherness and create a new, unified structure of meaning, a new myth of social identity which would satisfy and regulate individual hopes and aspirations. In the present, however, Nature had become the location for the expression of a purely subjective truth: 'Nature is subject to the beliefs and doctrines which dominate in society.
6 And on one occasion when he encountered traces of materialism in a doctoral thesis in medicine, he did not hesitate to cancel the awarding of the degree and publicly reprimand the jury which had allowed it. Throughout the century, up to the foundation of the Third Republic, the same general pattern recurs of rooted hostility to materialism among philosophers. The remarkable unanimity on this issue inevitably prompts the question why so many writers should feel obliged to kick down such an apparently open door.